California is on fire. The state has been ravaged by wildfires and the death toll has risen while people’s homes were lost. Thousands of people have left their neighborhoods, yet some people choose to stay. Some people choose to look for those who are missing in the rubble, choose to stop the fires overtaking homes. These people are firefighters.
One group of firefighters at work in California are inmates. About 1,500 prisoners joined the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a volunteer firefighter program.
Compared to professional fire-fighters, inmates who volunteered were eight times more likely to be inhale smoke and other vapors, and are four times as likely to receive bruises, cuts and fractures within object-induced incidences.
Between June 2013 and August 2018, more than 1,000 inmates were in a hospital due to injury and three inmates died as a result.
Despite this risk of injury and death, inmates with this program are paid a measly $2 an hour, with an additional $1 if an inmate works a 24 hour shift.
This is a sharp contrast to the rise of private firefighters, on payroll to insurance companies. Companies like AIG and Chubb have their own wildfire unit or contract other wildfire fighter units.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s private firefighters saved their $50 million mansion last week amidst hundreds of people losing their homes.
A president of a private firefighting company Wildfire Defense Systems claims that the 90% of the homes protected by the company are middle-class. This may be true, but it still poises a question of how much advantage the wealthy have over those who are less advantaged. Does having a certain insurance, or any insurance mean that a person’s house should be saved over another’s?
The contrast of the conditions inmate firefighters are facing and the low pay they receive and the private firefighters saving specific people’s homes such as the Kardashian-West’s expensive home is incredible. Those who are incarcerated already have limited resources as it is, with education that does not prepare inmates for the real world and bringing 76% formerly incarcerated prisoners in for a crime within five years. About 95% of Americans say that they have home insurance, but 73% of Americans do not have flood insurance that is different from homeowners coverage and more than 40% don’t know if they have or don’t have insurance that covers all their belongings and home when a disaster happens.
Incarcerated inmates who are volunteer firefighters and professional firefighters are helping those suffering from the California fires. Yet, those who do not have the means to having a private firefighter due to no or poor insurance or those volunteer inmates who are injured and killed at a higher rate than professional firefighters are also suffering.