Coffee Creek inmates learn how to fight wildfires

Week-long training ended with live fire exercise

Women inmates at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility were trained on how to battle wildfires, July 15, 2016 (KOIN)
Women inmates at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility were trained on how to battle wildfires, July 15, 2016 (KOIN)

ST. PAUL, Ore. (KOIN) — With the fire season here, Oregon departments are training women to help battle the blazes that may erupt in 2016 with a live fire exercise in St. Paul.

The women being trained are inmates at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. The joint training exercise was coordinated between the departments of Corrections and Forestry.

This training is part of the Coffee Creek Defensible Space program. They took steps last year to get a crew together, but it didn’t fully materialize.

The first 4 days were spent in the classroom with Friday’s live fire exercise planned to test what they learned.

“The training they receive this week is the same training, that any department of forestry firefighter gets,” said Coffee Creek Correctional Facility Lt. Justin Wylie.

Levi Hopkins, the incident commander for the forestry department, said it’s a chance for the inmates to give back and gain skills.

“This is a new project with fuels reduction, but using inmates to fight fire is not a new concept,” Hopkins said in a statement. “They have been used since 1957 and are a valuable resource.”

The program can also help woman secure employment after they’re released.

“I was trying to get into other stuff in the prison, but without your GED you can’t get into a lot of things and they let you with fire crew,” said crew member Melissa Gomez. “So I jumped in this and now I’m a part of something and I feel great.”

When they aren’t fighting wild fires, the team will work 40 hours a week to clear 200 feet of space from qualified homes in Clackamas County for free.

“If we have a fire, a big fire in the area, we are going to already have pre-established homes we know we can work there safely and those homes are going to be protected,” Hopkins said.

“This is awesome, 4 days a week fuel reductions, ten hours a day, and then if we have a fire we will go randomly,” Gomez said.

Jessica Lassiter is another member of the 30 member fire crew.

“This is everybody’s first time, and I’m really impressed with every body’s energy and communication,” Lassiter said.

Gomez and Lassiter say it’s an exciting new option for their future. The women will start clearing fuels around home as early as next week, and will also be ready to fight wildfires.

“There is a lot of mothers daughters and sisters out here that have made mistakes and this just gives them a sense of purpose,” Lassiter said. “A sense that that they can do something different.”

If you live in a forested area in Clackamas County and are interested in having this crew clear the area around your home to protect it against wildfires should contact Levi Hopkins at 503.829.2216 or levi.a.hopkins@oregon.gov to see if you qualify.

 

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