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A Story You Have Never Heard

January 17, 2018

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I’m always on the lookout for unusual stories about females. Why? For two reasons: first, ADEA is a female-owned company that offers a diverse selection of apparel for women and, second, there are more doors open to women than in the past.

This means I read a lot about what women are doing. However, I have never once read an article like the one I’m referencing here. This piece appeared in a publication titled, The Week on November 3, 2017 and it’s both unbelievable and tragic.

250+ FEMALE-INMATE FIREFIGHTERS

Women serving time in California prisons are routinely used to fight the state’s wildfires according to author and journalist, Jaime Lowe who is a frequent contributor to The New York Times, LA Weekly, Esquire, Sports Illustrated and New York magazine.

Female-inmate firefighters in California, photo courtesy of The Week

Early on in the article she makes the point that “California’s inmate firefighters choose to take part in the dangerous work they do. They have to pass a fitness test before they can qualify for fire camps.” Both female and male firefighters receive training before going on active duty.

Lt. Keith Radey, the commander in charge of one training camp says, “With any fire statewide, the inmate hand crews make up 50% to 80% of the fire personnel.”

THEY ACCEPT THE RISKS FOR A REASON

The author visited three camps over a period of a year-and-a-half and says, “I can see why inmates accept the risks of firefighting. Compared with life among the general prison population, the conservation camps are bastions of civility. They are less violent. They smell of eucalyptus, the ocean and fresh blooms – they have woodworking areas, softball fields and libraries full of donated mysteries and romance novels.”

Firefighters trying to put out a blaze destroying homes in Ventura

The use of inmate firefighters saves California taxpayers approximately $100 million a year. Several states – Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming and Georgia – employ prisoners to do this work, but none of them does it to the degree that California does.

FIREFIGHTERS MAKE A MAXIMUM OF $2.56 A DAY

The heavy labor and danger creates a bond among the crew. The author says, “The 30 or so women I met were mostly serving prison terms because of drug- or alcohol-related crimes.” (These are classified as low-level.)

Some said they would work the fire line for free. “It feels good,” said one, “when you see kids with signs saying. ‘Thank you for saving my house.’ It feels good that you saved somebody’s home, you know?”

MAKE NO MISTAKE: THIS IS A DANGEROUS JOB

This piece ends on a tragic note. A 22-year-old female firefighter was killed when the earth above her gave way. A large stone fell 100 ft. and struck her head.

Her name was Shawna Lynn Jones and she was buried at Eternal Valley Memorial Park. On the way, a fire company crew was on every overpass, standing on their trucks, saluting in full uniform. Outside her funeral, rows of sheriffs and deputies stood at attention. Two fire trucks were parked at the entrance with their ladders raised, crossed in tribute to her.

UPDATE #1: Every year it seems, wildfires rip through parts of Southern California. On December 5, 2017 a fire burned roughly 45,000 acres in 13 hours in Ventura, a city of more than 100,000 people along the Pacific coast.

By December 17th this figure had gone up to 270.000 acres.

UPDATE #2: On December 23, 2017 I woke up to three headlines on CNN: (a) The largest wildfire in California’s history, (b) The Thomas Fire has burned an area larger than NYC, Washington, DC and San Francisco combined, (c) Wildfire has scorched 273,400 acres. 

Shaun Nelson-Henrick



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