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Inmate Crews Key Component in Wildland Firefighting and Community Protection Arsenals

They’re a diverse group comprised of 25-40 mem- bers. They range from 18 to more than 50 years of age and come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. As diverse as they are, they all have one thing in common. They’re inmates. They’re also mem- bers of SWIFT—State Wildland Inmate Fire Team – and they’re learning a new trade while they help protect Colorado communities from wildfires and restore for- ests to more natural conditions.

This year’s SWIFT recruits are from the Buena Vista Correctional Center in Buena Vista, Four-Mile Correc- tional Center in Canon City and the Rifle Correctional Center in Rifle. They’re the fifth group of inmates to receive training in wildfire mitigation and suppression since the program was launched in 2001. Not only do they perform the grueling hand work that often is nec- essary to reduce fuels around communities and on pri- vate land, they’re also red-card qualified to serve as Type 2 hand-crew members. That means they have received the basic training necessary to fight wild- fires and help with prescribed fires.

USFS, the crews can also work on federal land within the project area.

The crews recently created a firebreak and thinned fuels on Denver Water parcels along the North Fork of the South Platte River southeast of Conifer. And this fall, they will plant trees at Cheesman Reservoir as part of the ongoing post-fire rehabilitation treatments.

“To qualify for the SWIFT program, inmates must have a high school diploma or GED and have no disciplinary reports for at least six months. The program does not allow sex offenders or violent offenders and each appli- cant must pass a fitness test prior to their acceptance,” said Jack Laughlin, service division manger for Colorado Correctional Industries (CCI). After acceptance in the program, crew members must complete more than 80 hours of classroom instruction followed by 40 hours of red-card training provided by Colorado Correctional Industries staff with assistance from the Colorado State Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service. Additionally, crew

The original crew’s first fire assignment was on the Snaking Fire near Bailey in April 2002, which launched the worst recorded fire season in Colorado history. Since then, crews have helped fight numerous fires and brought much-needed and welcome help to the fire lines. But some of the most important work the crews do is reducing fuels on forest land, often on difficult ter- rain that can only be treated by hand-fell- ing.

Over the past four years, the Colorado State Forest Service has contracted the crews to work on the Upper South Platte Forest Restoration Project. Their most re- cent work involved a 38-acre parcel of pri- vate land on the Fletcher Ranch near Deck- ers, which is part of a 400-acre project in- volving CSFS, Denver Water and the U.S. Forest Service. And thanks to a Good Neighbor Agreement between CSFS and

Photo by Chuck Dennis 10 Colorado Forestry Association

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