Firefighters, Inside CDCR Video

Ishi exercises prepare firefighter crews

Ishi exercises included firefighter crews hiking.
Fire crews begin their hike as part of the Ishi Conservation Camp exercises.

Ishi Conservation Camp exercise

CDCR’s Ishi Conservation Camp and CAL FIRE hosted the 37th Annual Spring Training Exercises to ensure new firefighter crews are prepared for fire season.

(See video below, or continue reading for the rest of the story.)

Eight Northern California incarcerated hand crews, four California Conservation Corps crews, two National Guard crews, and six CAL FIRE crews gathered at Ishi Camp in Paynes Creek for the week-long event. Of those, 19 teams comprising more than 300 people are now qualified Type 1 hand crews who will join this year’s firefighting effort.

Hand crews fight wildfires without water and work in terrain larger engines can’t reach. Instead of hoses, hand crews are equipped with chainsaws and tools to strip land down to bare soil that doesn’t burn, also known as a fire line.

“My whole team, we work together. Our communication is really good, it’s really improved over the past few weeks,” said incarcerated fire crew member Alexander Kirby.

Ishi exercise firefighter crews are making the grade

During the exam, participants are quizzed on their knowledge of:

  • communications
  • safety zones
  • and escape routes.

Meanwhile, proctors inspect their gear. Teams must complete a 70-minute hike over 3.8 miles, rest, then cut 300 feet of fire line in one hour.

To complete their training, they are evaluated on:

  • safety performance
  • physical conditioning
  • shelter deployment
  • fire line construction
  • and firefighting knowledge.

During this year’s Ishi exercise, all the incarcerated firefighter crews were successful. Now, they will provide crucial support for fighting wildfires.

“I have the opportunity to basically be a step from freedom,” Kirby added. “(Doing this shows) I’m worth something still and not just stuck behind the bars doing nothing.”

“I really think this setting at camp prepares them for reintegrating back into society. I’ve had probably about a thousand inmates come through this camp since I’ve been here, and I only know of maybe 10 or 15 who have re-offended and come back,” said Ishi Conservation Camp Commander Lt. Matthew Gregor.

Fire up the Grill

Once their work in the field is complete, participants return to base camp where a hearty lunch is served from a Mobile Kitchen Unit (MKU). There, they are graded on conduct during meal times.

Salt Creek Camp received its MKU in 2021 and shares it with nearby camps like Ishi. This MKU was used continuously for five weeks during the Dixie Fire, supplying up to 5,000 meals a day.

Exercises and programs like these provide a vital opportunity to practice skills needed to enter the job market upon release.

“The fact that I can have a career, not a job. A career. And I really motivate myself every day to look forward to that career,” Kirby beamed. “It’s not just some job at Walmart I’m looking forward to, I’m going to work with CAL FIRE. To me – my mom is going to be so proud of me. Because I pushed myself to get here.”

Visit the Conservation Camp Program webpage for more information.

By Tessa Outhyse, Public Information Officer
Video by Rob Stewart, TV Specialist

Learn more about the CDCR/CAL FIRE camps and firefighters.

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