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Inmates learn new skills, work on the frontlines

California Conservation Corps keeps firefighters fueled
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The Robbers Fire has left 2,500 acres and one home destroyed in the wake of its flames ? making it even more vital for agencies across California to pull their resources together until the wild fire is extinguished. Firefighters, California Conservation Corps members and non-violent offender inmates may wear different uniforms at the staging area in the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn, but they share a common objective. Corpsmembers help keep things at the staging area running smoothly for firefighters, while trained prisoners spearhead the cooking efforts and work alongside firefighters on the frontlines. Steve Soares, conservationist C-1, said watching his corpsmembers help in the kitchen and stock firefighters with vital supplies has been rewarding. ?They are seeing the big picture,? Soares said. ?Sure we have to get up early, but look at what the other guys are doing on the line. I love the teamwork that I am seeing.? Nathan Stalioraitis, 20, and a corpsmember, said getting up at 3:30 a.m. each day is worth it, if it makes the job of firefighters a little easier ?There has been a lot of positive feedback from people,? Stalioraitis said. Lieutenant Scott Porter, of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the 150 inmates in the Trinity River Camp that he manages undergo firefighting training through Cal Fire. When fires break out, the strike teams can be called upon to go as far South as the Mexican border and as far North as the Oregon border. Porter added that inmates assigned to the camp have to undergo a strict screening process to be eligible and can?t have committed a violent or sexual crime. ?They come to us with little or no work ethic, the majority of them,? Porter said. ?The best thing they take away is that work ethic.? After being trained to wake up early each morning and work hard all day, Porter said many of the inmates learn life skills and gain self respect that they never had before. While out on strike teams, the inmates put in containment and contingency fire lines. After they have served their sentences, seeing that work ethic translate beyond prison camp makes his job rewarding, Porter added. ?They say, ?Lieutenant Porter, my eyes popped open in the morning and I had to get a job,?? Porter said. John Dominquez, public information officer for Cal Fire, of Fresno, said some former inmates who have served in the camps have been hired by Cal Fire. It?s also a good way for them to repay their debt to society, he added. ?I think they are just another tool in the toolbox,? Dominquez said. ?It might be a cost saving measure; however it?s another tool we can use.? Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter @AJ_News.