Behind British Columbia’s many wildfire-fighting crews stands a team of provincial inmates who provide vital support to those serving on the front lines.
Throughout the recent provincial state of emergency, a longstanding partnership with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) saw inmate crews, under the supervision of BC Corrections staff, ramp up their efforts to help fire crews.
The BC Corrections fire suppression program operates out of four correctional centres that work in partnership with the BCWS. This provides participants with meaningful, rewarding work experience, while saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and staff resources:
- Crews from Fraser Regional Correctional Centre (FRCC) and Prince George Regional Correctional Centre (PGRCC), under the guidance of BCWS fire camp co-ordinators, set up and take down firefighting base camps, assist with inventory of camp-related equipment and supplies, and maintain base camp equipment and facilities.
- Crews from Ford Mountain Correctional Centre (FMCC) inspect, test and repair firefighting hand tools, such as axes, suction hoses, shovels and fire rakes.
- Crews from Nanaimo Correctional Centre (NCC) repair, clean and dry thousands of fire hoses from all over the province, which are then returned for re-use by the wildfire service. Huge savings result from inmates repairing a hose for approximately $15, compared to spending between $120 and $140 to replace a hose. During the 2015 fire season, this NCC program processed almost 30,000 hoses. This season, with extended shifts, it was averaging around 1,300 lengths of hose per week.
Inmates assigned to a crew have “open custody” status, which means they can be trusted to work in the community under supervision. These inmates are selected based on their history and have performed and behaved exceptionally well during previous experience on other community work crews.
The BC Corrections fire suppression program would not be possible without the support of dedicated BC Corrections professionals. Beyond supporting the program, a number of community and custody staff deployed away from their families to help with security, firefighting and other relief efforts. The support of inmates and BC Corrections aids the BCWS and, at its core, this partnership allows inmates to gain meaningful work experience and give back in a positive way.
Mike Farnworth, Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General –
“Most provincial inmates hail from B.C. communities and will return home at some point in the future. In the meantime, even more inmates than in past years rose to the challenge and gave all they could to help British Columbians during the provincial state of emergency. My thanks to both correctional centre staff and the inmate crews for their contributions during this very challenging fire season.”
Inmate participant, Wildfire Suppression Program –
“For me, this wasn’t just about making time pass. We got that it was important to a lot of people out there working the fire lines, so that really motivated us to get it done right. Some of the guys even showed up on their days off. Keeping up my work ethic will help when I get out.”
- When a major fire is discovered, professional firefighting teams arrive quickly and need base camps that provide basic essentials, such as living quarters (tents or trailers), mobile kitchens and washrooms, incident command centres and a great deal of equipment.
- Each year, the PGRCC and FRCC crews are available from April through October for immediate call-out to set up and demobilize BCWS camps. Crews have been actively deployed in camp situations for up to 19 consecutive days at any given time.
- When no wildfires are burning, inmate crews can deploy to the two BCWS provincial depots in Chilliwack and Prince George. There, they inventory and refurbish fire-camp-related equipment, mobile kitchen trailers, washrooms, living quarters, tents and mobile incident command centres, readying them for quick deployment when needed.
- Inmate crews are not involved in firefighting. B.C. wildfire-fighters are trained professionals who must pass fitness tests and receive specialized training to qualify for front-line work.
- BC Firefighters can go through 15,000 to 30,000 lengths of hose in an average summer in B.C., but that can reach more than 70,000 in peak years. Hoses get burned, mangled by heavy equipment and punctured by tools – demanding quick replacement, cleaning and repair.
- NCC’s hose program began nearly 30 years ago with washing and drying and has expanded to include repair, splicing and intensive testing of a growing volume of hose segments and, most recently, relay tank repair and testing.
- BCWS’s main distribution depot is close to FMCC, contributing to the efficiency of its four-year-old equipment repair program.
- Participating inmates received between $2 and $8 per day, depending on their tasks, to spend on phone calls and on canteen items like chips and pop.
BC Corrections: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/corrections