Six firefighters injured in Southern California

They were all transported to hospitals

Updated 11:39 a.m. PDT June 8, 2022

The inmate firefighters who suffered burn injuries June 7 in Southern California were all in stable condition when the LA County Fire Department posted an update on Twitter at 3:11 p.m. PDT June 7, 2022.

“A flash fire occurred in the back of an inmate camp crew vehicle,” the tweet said. “Six patients were transported to hospitals w/mild to moderate burns & all are currently in stable condition. Incident is under investigation.”

From NBC4, at 8:30 p.m. June 7, 2022:

One inmate was treated for critical injuries at a burn center with burns covering over 12% of his body, but officials say he is expected to be ok. The other five inmates suffered minor injuries.

The inmate firefighters were in the back of a transport vehicle leaving a training exercise when the fire started, authorities say. Authorities confirm that the fire was not related to the training exercises they were performing and was not apart of any escape plan.

Inmate firefighters are not allowed to have an flammable materials in the back of the trucks which include cigarettes, lighters, and liquids. It is unclear what started the fire and officials are still investigating it.

2:57 p.m. PDT June 7, 2022

Firefighters injured, June 7, 2022
Firefighters injured, June 7, 2022. Still image from ABC7 video.

Six firefighters were injured near Castaic, California Tuesday morning. Not all the details are known but initial reports, which can change, is that they were taking part in a training exercise and had burn injuries.

Four were transported to hospitals in two helicopters and two went by ground ambulance.

All six patients were inmate firefighters from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesperson Geovanni Sanchez. Emergency crews responded shortly after 11 a.m. following reports of burned patients on Templin Highway near Castaic, said Esteban Benitez, another spokesman for the county.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

Former inmate firefighters create fire crew and training program

Trainee firefighters at the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program
Trainee firefighters with the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program. Image from LA Times video.

Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey gained firefighting experience while incarcerated at a California facility for wildland fire crews. After being released they eventually obtained jobs fighting fires with government agencies but it took them two years. When they ran into their old inmate crew while assigned to a fire they were inspired to turn what they had learned into a training program designed for people with backgrounds similar to their own.

They founded the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP) and have helped hundreds of men and women get jobs. The organization provides help to those formerly incarcerated in California’s Conservation Camps, but accepts participants from all experiences and backgrounds.

“We navigated a maze and we want to help others, so they don’t go through what we did,” said Mr. Smith, now FFRP’s executive director. He cites the positive impact of a recent state law allowing inmate firefighters to become eligible for firefighting jobs by having their records expunged after completing their sentences.

FFRP also provides wildfire prevention and hazard mitigation services. Since 2017, they have grown to operate four trained crews in Southern California, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Ventura Counties.

California inmate steals fire engine

Shingle Springs, California

Stolen fire truck
Stolen fire engine. Photo courtesy of Bill Wilde.

An inmate working on a wildfire east of Sacramento in Shingle Springs, California stole a fire engine and went on a joyride.

The 31-year old inmate did major damage to the CAL FIRE engine as he drove cross country at 12:40 a.m. Monday, did donuts, then crashed through a fence and entered the storage area for a company that manufactures truck racks.

When he got the fire engine stuck in a ditch he attempted to steal another vehicle:

From KTVU:

With the firetruck disabled, the inmate ran back toward the truck racks business and tried to steal a vehicle from a business employee who was just leaving, Varao said. They fought, but the employee was able to escape back into the business and lock himself inside, while the inmate was unable to start the employee’s vehicle.

The employee was left with “very minor injuries” but was not taken to the hospital, while the inmate was then captured by correctional officers with the help of El Dorado County sheriff’s deputies about a half-hour after the incident began.

The inmate was not identified.

Video from Fox 40:

Legislation reintroduced to boost prescribed fire activities

$600 million could be appropriated

Prescribed fire, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Ogden Dunes in northwest Indiana
Prescribed fire, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore near Ogden Dunes in northwest Indiana in 2013. NPS photo.

Legislation that did not pass in Congress last year to promote prescribed fire was reintroduced yesterday by four Senators. The National Prescribed Fire Act of 2021 would appropriate $300 million each to the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture (DOA) to increase the pace and scale of controlled burns on state, county, and federally managed lands. Companion legislation with four sponsors was introduced in the House of Representatives.

Of the total of eight sponsors and co-sponsors, seven are Democrats and one is Republican. The legislation did not stand a chance in 2020 but it could fare better this year.

Senators have issued press releases promising that if the bill is passed it “would help prevent the blistering and destructive infernos from destroying homes, businesses and livelihoods.” ?

The legislation:

  • Establishes a $10 million collaborative program, based on the successful Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, to implement controlled burns on county, state and private land at high risk of burning in a wildfire.
  • Establishes an incentive program to provide funding to state, county, and federal agencies for any large-scale controlled burn.S tates and counties could receive up to $100,000 for prescribed fire projects.
  • Establishes a workforce development program at the Forest Service and DOI to develop, train, and hire prescribed fire practitioners, and establishes employment programs for Tribes, veterans, women, and those formerly incarcerated.
  • Directs the DOI and DOA to hire additional personnel and procure equipment, including unmanned aerial systems equipped with aerial ignitions systems, in order to implement a greater number of prescribed fires.
  • Encourages large cross-boundary prescribed fires exceeding 50,000 acres.
  • Sets an annual target of at least one million acres treated with prescribed fire by federal agencies, but not to exceed 20 million.
  • Requires that by September 30, 2023 a minimum of one prescribed fire to be conducted on each unit of the National Forest System, unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, unit of the National Park System, and Bureau of Land Management district under the jurisdiction of the two Departments. The intent is to increase familiarity with prescribed fire in local units.
  • The two Departments shall hire additional employees and provide training and development activities, including through partnerships with community colleges, to increase the number of skilled and qualified prescribed fire practitioners in the DOI, DOA, Indian Tribes, and other qualified organizations, including training in smoke management practices.
  • The Office of Personnel Management shall give the two Departments new authority to hire temporary personnel to perform work related to prescribed fire, including training, implementation, and post-prescribed burning activities. The workers could begin three days before the project and work through three days after “the prescribed fire has stopped burning.”
  • Overtime payments for prescribed fire could be paid out of wildfire suppression accounts.
  • Each Department shall create at least one crew for implementing prescribed fires. After a person works on the crew for five seasons they would become eligible for noncompetitive conversion to a permanent position.
  • The Departments may spend up to $1 million in working with the National Governors’ Association to host a conference to discuss the benefits of addressing liability protection related to prescribed fires, and possible incentives for States to enact a covered law.

“In the simplest terms, the National Prescribed Fire Act offers a legislative solution to increase the use of prescribed fire,” said National Association of State Foresters President, Arkansas State Forester, Joe Fox. “With this bill, state foresters would be able to maximize their utilization of controlled burns to enhance forest health while minimizing damages and mega smoke emissions from catastrophic wildfires. It is a win-win-win for forests, wildland fire management, and public health.”

California passes bill to allow former inmates who served on fire crews to pursue a career in fire

AB2147 passes inmates fire crewsThe California legislature has passed a bill, AB 2147, that would allow former prisoners who worked on inmate fire crews to pursue a career in firefighting.

The  bill authored by Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes will allow nonviolent offenders who have logged time fighting fires on inmate crews while incarcerated, an opportunity to have their records expunged upon release, allowing them to become firefighters.

Released inmates who have successfully petitioned a judge to expunge their records and waive parole time, will also have the ability to apply for an emergency medical technician’s license.

Previously, California law has instructed emergency service agencies to deny EMT certification to anyone who has been convicted of two or more felonies, is on parole or probation, or has committed any kind of felony within the last decade.

COVID spreading through inmate crew camps and prisons this summer has cut the number of inmate crews available from 192 to 94. On July 9 California Governor Gavin Newsom said 12 inmate camps had to be quarantined due to the virus.

Compounding the firefighter shortage was the early release of thousands of state inmates to create more space in the facilities during the pandemic, and before that, the state’s initiative to reduce the incarceration of those jailed for lower-level offenses.

CAL FIRE introduces firefighting hand crews staffed by civilians

New CAL FIRE Firefighter 1 hand crews
New CAL FIRE Firefighter I hand crews. CAL FIRE photo.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CAL FIRE, has introduced two hand crews staffed by civilians, rather than inmates. Based in the San Bernardino Unit, their primary mission will be fuels reduction and fighting wildfires in San Bernardino, Inyo, and Mono Counties.

Each Type 2 Initial Attack crew is staffed by 2 Fire Captains and 12 Firefighter I’s. The 4 Captains selected to lead the crews bring 107 years of wildland firefighting experience, with over 60 of those years spent on hand crews. Most of the firefighters have Type 3 engine time and about half bring hand crew experience.

This is a significant step for a state that has been relying on inmate hand crews for over half a century.

With the COVID-19 pandemic reducing the number of inmate firefighters, the CAL FIRE is scrambling to find enough personnel to handle the all important job of cutting fireline and mopping up wildfires.

COVID spreading through inmate crew camps and prisons has cut the number of inmate crews available from 192 to 94. On July 9 California Governor Gavin Newsom said 12 inmate camps had to be quarantined last month due to the virus. Compounding the firefighter shortage was the early release of thousands of state inmates to create more space in the facilities during the pandemic, and before that, the state’s initiative to reduce the incarceration of those jailed for lower-level offenses.

The Governor announced the state intends to hire an additional 858 seasonal and 172 permanent firefighters. The agency has also changed the mission of six California Conservation Camp (CCC) crews to exclusively perform fire related tasks, two in the south and four in the north.

New CAL FIRE Firefighter 1 hand crews
New CAL FIRE Firefighter I hand crews. CAL FIRE photo.