Residents Oppose Plan To House Fire Crew Inmates

Inmate fire fighting camp. Photo courtesy of L.A. County Fire.
Inmate fire fighting camp. Photo courtesy of L.A. County Fire.

MALIBU—The Los Angeles County Fire Department will no longer seek to construct a new area housing station. The news was announced mid-week, when it was reported that LA County Fire Chief Michael Freeman informed the Board of Supervisers of his ultimate decision to abandon hope.

Residents in Malibu expressed apprehension about a plan to build an area station intended to house prison inmate fire crews in the area.

The inmate firefighters’ former camp had burned down during an intense brush fire that had occurred in the summer of 2009 and killed two firefighters who were contending the blaze, 47-year-old fire captain Tedmond D. Hall and 34-year-old firefighter specialist Arnoldo “Arnie” Quinones.

Though Malibu is known as one of the county’s areas most vulnerable to fires, residents have expressed displeasure at the thought of inmates living in their community.  According to officials, the camps house low-risk offenders serving time for nonviolent offenses and who are considered model prisoners. The controversy appeared to stem over the idea of housing any kind of offenders nearby to suburban areas. The plan was introduced after an inmate firefighter camp at Mount Gleason was destroyed during a blaze caused by the most aggressive brush fire known to take place in Los Angeles County. The Malibu station may be used for up to two years to temporarily house the displaced inmates.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Web site, there are 46 adult and juvenile fire camps that can deploy approximately 200 fire crews. Inmates typically earn $1 per hour, and may earn up to two days off of their sentencing for each day that they work at fighting fires. The Inmate Fire Camp population is more than 4,400.

According to the Web site, adult inmates assigned to the camps are carefully screened and medically cleared. Only minimum custody inmates —both male and female —may participate in the Conservation Camps Program. To be eligible, candidates must be physically fit and have no history of violent crimes including kidnapping, sex offenses, arson, or escape.

Authorities with the L.A. County fire and state corrections oversee five camps in the San Gabriel Mountains, Acton, Saugus and Malibu’s Denker Canyon, where female inmate firefighters live at Camp 13. Camp 16 was located at Mount Gleason.

Almost exactly two years ago, a fire ravaged Malibu. The fire affected the homes of many Malibu residents, including the home of Suzanne Somers. The January wildfire was one of many fires which frequently break out in the highly coveted Los Angeles County town. Another fire took place later in 2007 around Malibu.

On January 19, Fire Chief Michael Freeman informed the LA County Board of Supervisers of the progress of volunteers assisting in rescue efforts in Haiti. Freeman informed the board that 75 volunteers through the fire department are currently helping in Haiti, with six of the volunteers not even official fire fighters. Structural engineers, a canine handler and doctors are among those who have traveled from Los Angeles to Haiti, through the support of U.S.A.I.D. The chief noted that “to date, our team is responsible for nine live rescues.” He further noted that none of the volunteers have suffered any serious injuries, are working hard, “rehabilitating and retooling,” and “they’re all in good health and they’re in good spirits.”