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Inmates work on life skills while battling wildfires

Reported by: Denise Rosch
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Updated: 5/24/2013 5:47 pm
MOUNT CHARLESTON (KSNV -- Wildland firefighters are making sure they're ready for fire season.

This week, crews with the Nevada Division of Forestry staged a mock training exercise on Mount Charleston. It’s expected to be a hot, dry season, and the training exercise gets them as close to the real thing as possible.

But most of the firefighters are inmates of the Nevada Department of Prisons -- non-violent offenders who earned meritorious time and helping their state in the process.

Tim Faust, a camp area supervisor for the Nevada Department of Forestry, says NDF can mobilize as many as 900 inmates in just 12 hours, fighting fires or helping out during floods.

“We're kind of like the hidden secret for the state of Nevada,” Faust said.

The inmate brigade assisted in the 6.0 earthquake in Wells five years ago.

“Sometimes for these inmates a light bulb sometimes turns on to them because they're experiencing something out of that criminal element,” Faust said. “And they're learning something. We're teaching them a trade.”

For the inmate trainees, they are adapting to terrain that is foreign to many of their city-dwelling pre-arrest lives. The work isn't easy, but the rewards are there.

“They're pretty much hand-picked and they know this is a privilege to be on this crew and you see the pride,” Mark Blankensop of the Nevada Division of Forestry.

Some of the inmates will take this training and find work with other fire agencies once they are released.

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