Inmate firefighters 'unseen heroes' on the frontlines battling California wildfires

David González Image
Wednesday, July 19, 2023
Inmates 'unseen heroes' on the frontlines battling CA wildfires
Among the crews working nonstop to put out Riverside County wildfires since Friday are inmates from the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- CAL Fire crews have been working around the clock to contain the Rabbit Fire since it ignited in Riverside County on Friday.

Among those on the frontlines battling the blaze are inmates with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or CDCR.

"They're the unseen heroes of the firefighter actions in the state," said CDCR Correctional Lt. Brian Sloat.

Sloat said there are about 1,800 CDCR inmates working with local, state and federal agencies to respond to emergencies like the Rabbit Fire.

"There are multiple fires starting constantly throughout the day, throughout the night, all through California, 24/7," Lt. Sloat said. "These are the guys responding to those fires and ensuring those small fires do not become large fires."

Marcos Alvarez in one of the inmate firefighters.

"I program the radios," Alvarez said. "I make sure everything is good for us as we enter in, and I make sure we got safety zone, and an escape route to make out of the fire if we have to."

He has served half of his 17-year sentence for robbery.

"It helps us progress as humans and as adults," Alvarez said.

Also, Lt. Sloat said the inmates are working behind the scenes helping to run the base camp.

It includes the Mobile Kitchen Unit, which cooks up to 4,000 meals for all the crews on hand.

"Without them, nobody would get fed at this base camp," Lt. Sloat said.

For inmate firefighters like Alvarez, the program has given many of the them a purpose and sense of direction.

"A lot of us are putting our hearts and all we got into this," Alvarez said. "A lot of us really want to do this when we get out."

Cal Fire and CDCR said additional inmates are on standby if needed.

Lt. Sloat said when they're not out battling flames these inmates are also working in other ways in the community.