Inmates Fighting Wildfires – for $6 a Day

A group of about 25 prisoners in Colorado are fighting wildfires in the state as part of the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team (SWIFT), a 16-year-old program operated by the Colorado Department of Corrections. Alex Burness with the Colorado Independent writes about the team and how it aides professional firefighters in the state.

Listen to the interview with Alex Burness here:

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    Inmates Fighting Wildfires – for $6 a Day KGNU News

Photo credit Alex Burness/Colorado Independent

The firefighters are selected out of hundreds of applicants, for each of the three SWIFT teams: Cañon City, Buena Vista and Rifle.  The men, all felons, are non-violent offenders — many were convicted of drug charges — and all are eligible for parole in no more than three years.  After going through intense training they are eligible to be deployed as part of the team getting paid $6 a day for very difficult, dangerous work. “It’s very dangerous work and guys I talked to in Cañon City told me stories about enormous walls of flame that they would work near and smoke so heavy they couldn’t see their team mate right next to them. So one might wonder, and I did, why would someone volunteer for this, especially given that they make no money doing it.”

Burness says there seems to be several reasons why the men volunteer for SWIFT including a chance to get out of the prison, an opportunity to get a day off their sentence (they get a day off their sentence for every day they’re fighting fires,) and a chance to be part of a team and feel good about their work.

Despite learning valuable skills as part of the firefighting team, most of the SWIFT members are ineligible to work as firefighters on their release due to their felony status.

“They can’t in most cases get EMT licenses, which precludes them from applying to urban fire departments, they can’t work for a lot of wildland fire departments or urban fire departments for that matter because of prior felony convictions.”


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