Prison inmates are trained as firefighters - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Prison inmates are trained as firefighters

(NBC News) -

Fire season is already heating up and last year's was especially tough. 

California is again looking towards a rather unorthodox group to help control the blazes, inmate firefighters. The groups are already preparing for a season that could hit the state hard. 

Every spring dozens of firefighters must get certified to go into battle.

Their orange jumpsuits tell you, they're not your average firefighters.

These are the select few who make the cut to train to become state inmate firefighters, inmate firefighter Anthony Garcia sees redemption in this work.

Garcia says, "It's been a good experience  it's a way for us to like us that have gotten into a little trouble before to like give back to the community for those that want to make a change "

The work they do is critical.

Chief Steven Beach Of California Fire say,"We have just short of 200 fire crews in the State of California working or us so they are a very huge part of our workforce we rely heavily on them for the very backbreaking manual labor."

The Bautista conservation camp is high above Hemet.   

One of the most important jobs they must learn to do well is cutting a fire line in treacherous terrain.

Chief Steven beach says, "And that keeps the fire from spreading  ... their life depends on the quality of line that they're cutting and how well they work together."

That's how they learn what is known in the fire service as a brotherhood.

Garcia says, "We have a saying that we're only as strong as our weakest link so .. we always wait for each other and we make sure that everybody's safe ..."

They know this work can cost them their lives part of the training includes the worst case scenario deploying their fire shelter.

Chief Steven Beach says, "We don't ever want to use those but that is the last line of defense if we are being overrun by fire."

Garcia worked the fires in northern California last year, where dozens were killed, thousands lost their homes and two firefighters lost their lives.

Garcia says, "I've never been in a situation where a lot of people have been the way that they were at that fire so  ... it definitely makes you think about your mortality."

But Garcia says seeing how his work impacts others makes it all worth it.

Garcia says, "People were coming by and just thanking us and actually shaking our hands and that was the first time I felt actually felt like I gave something back."

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