When you call 911 because your house is on fire, the last person you’d expect to respond is a Georgia Department of Corrections Inmate. When we picture the firefighter sliding down the pole and jumping into the fire truck, we don’t envision the truck screaming past the barbed wire fence monitored by sniper prison guards. But for many Georgia residents, fires, car wrecks and other disasters are being handled by nonviolent offenders serving a Georgia prison sentence.
Since 1963, the Georgia Department of Corrections (GDOC) has controlled fully operational fire stations servicing the public. Currently, GDOC operates 19 fire stations in state correctional facilities and 6 stations in county jails/detention centers. Over 200 inmates participate in the program and respond to over 3,000 calls annually. Offenders receive certification through the Georgia Standards and Training to become firefighters, including Introduction to Fire Science, Fire Fighting Strategy and Tactics, Fire Prevention and Inspection, EMT/First Responder and Hazardous Materials.
Georgia’s Lee Arrendale State Prison, where the program began in the 1960s, is now home to the only ALL female fire station in the country. The ladies of Arrendale respond to an average of 100 calls a year throughout Banks, Habersham and White Counties as well as providing automatic aid to the City of Baldwin. These tough women hold a broad range of Certifications, including Fireghter 1, First Aid, Hazardous Materials, Crash Victim Extrication, Liquid Propane Gas Burns, High Angle Rescue, Medical First Responder and Emergency, Response to Railroad Incidents.
While most of the GDOC fire stations service rural areas with smaller populations, greater metro Atlanta counties Henry, Butts and Spaulding are within the response territory of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison’s Station 2 in Jackson, Georgia.
State officials report the program saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands dollars while allowing nonviolent offenders to contribute to the community while being punished. Furthermore, it has been described as a deterrent to recidivism since the inmates are trained and certified with a skill that can be used outside the prison walls.
Granted, many citizens may be concerned with the logistical issues, community safety and social responsibility of the program. But, would anyone really refuse the assistance of a trained inmate firefighter in a time of need?