Georgia Cost-Saving Plan Adds Inmates to Firehouse Staffing

ST MARYS, Ga. (AP) — Officials in southeast Georgia are considering a money-saving program that would put inmates in fire stations. The Florida Times-Union reports ( that the program would put two inmates in each of three existing firehouses in Camden County.



Times are tough and many departments, career and volunteer, are having a hard time maintaining even minimum staffing. Is this Georgia plan even worth the risk when considering public image and public relations?

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I would start another thread on the whole homeless and unemployed program.  Just my thought.

OK, I started a new separate discussion how to create jobs in the fire service and how to fund them.

I honestly am trying to help us get to a better spot without adding extra burden to the citizens we serve.

So please lets join together and see what can be done here.   

I don't live in GA but how can this be a savings to the local community taxpayer for which you say will get more services from their volunteer fire department? 


First off, they chose to fund an all volunteer fire department or staff the station with a single paid firefighter to "engineer"  the fire apparatus. Therefore their choice in fire protection service is what it was before you introduced the live-in, work-release inmate program.


Now as far as cost savings, they already pay state and/or federal taxes to feed and house any inmate.  Then you pitch to have some pre-selected inmates do a work-release / rehabilitation program at the local community fire department.  It was previously mentioned that the host community must feed and house them in return for the free labor.  Isn't the host community now paying twice? I am sure that community is still paying the same state and federal taxes as the neighboring community that doesn't house the inmate firefighters? So they are essentially paying any additional costs to increase their fire protection services. 

In this program that we are taking about the funds that are already being used to feed cloth and house the inmates are moved over to the fire service, so no additional cost. The department was volunteer and now it is a combination department with inmate FF providing additional service. We have 4 crews right now 24/7, wish is 12 paid staff (24 on, 48 off). For the cost of 1 FF we get 4 total (1-paid; 3-inmates); this gives us a full engine crew for 4 stations and provides us the 2 in 2 out needed to start operations for a safe fire scene.

The county already had a fire tax in place but was contracting with the city for the services and paying the volunteer departments a small amount for their services. The city wanted to raise the fee that they were charging without providing increased services or expanding services in the county. We were brought in to do a feasibility study.

After review of total services the city and VFD where providing, we developed this program for the same about they were already spending, this allowed us to provide the VFD with better equipment and support and training.  

This program now provides services in areas that were never available before, (or response times where over 30 minutes away) now over 98% of the county has coverage; providing better response times and allowing us to reduce homeowners insurance. The reduction in homeowners insurance now offsets any fire tax (EX: $150 fire tax = average $1250 year insurance savings) pretty dam good return on the investment. This now allows us to expand the services with more citizens’ support. We are adding one more crew this year and one more next year. We went from 4 volunteer stations poorly equipped to 4 manned (fixing to be 5) and 19 sub-stations; 22 stations in all with 22 class A engines, 5 service trucks, 1- 100’ stick, 5 tankers, 4 brush trucks, a heavy rescue and a mini rescue.

We also have a public safety dive team and a building a SAR team and we do it all for the same cost they were already spending. With these types of results the citizens are more willing to support what we need.   


So far all I hear from you is the "good' side of this program. With anything, their is always a down side.

I would like to hear the down side of the program directly from you.

NO! it kind of blows the entire "having a clean record" only to be working next to a con. everyone deserves a second chance but public trust can only be preserved with personnel with no criminal or substance abuse history. this idea and its descision to move forward is out of my pay grade but from the hip my answer would have to be no.
wildland seems to be the best place for them


I have to question some of your numbers:

You state that staffing is now 3 inmates and one paid FF; where did the money come from to pay for the FF?

If the VFD's were poorly equipped and staffed, one must assume this was because the community could (or would) not pay for improvements.  So with the paid FF and NEW equipment, again, where does the money come from?

How can a community that couldn't afford decent equipment or paid FF(s) now suddenly be able to do so 'for about the same they were already spending?'

" over 98% of the county has coverage..."  This statement is meaningless unless you include the prior coverage.  It could have already been 96%

You are (I'm assuming) talking rural Georgia, that being the case, how is it that the AVERAGE savings on Homeowner Insurance is $1250/yr?  Where I am in Connecticut my homeowner's insurance (including fire) runs about $500/yr  How can MY insurance be less than half of what someone in rural Georgia is SAVING?  It doesn't add up. [Should my house burn down the cost for materials and labor, as well as temporary housing for me are going to be considerably more expensive here in CT than it would be in GA.]

So your dive team and SAR are inmate run as well?  Again it doesn't make sense: there must be a NEED for a dive team and SAR yet no one ever bothered to fund it before?  So bodies were left unrecovered and lost persons left to wander?

There are only ~330 million people in the US, where did the 60 billion come from?

This is about the fourth time I've said this:

By offering these programs you are making it irresistibly attractive to communities who, for what ever reason choose not to fund adequately for their own fire protection.  In effect you are giving communities the CHOICE to fund/staff their own fire departments OR do so with prison funds and inmates.  Honestly this sounds like little more than union busting on a state funded level.

Addendum - The national average for housing an inmate is $60 per day.  That includes food, medical, housing, supervision, training/schooling etc.  Factor out only food cost and I'm sure you're down to a couple of dollars a day to feed a prisoner, how much to feed that same prisoner in the fire house?  Also, with the one paid FF being cross trained as a Corrections Officer, that FF is going to get paid more than he/she would as a plain FF.  Now factor in the cost to administer the program, fuzzy accounting practices in "transferring" prison funds to the fire department, transportation for medical care of prisoners, back filling for sick or injured prisoners and the costs begin to add up.

Also, what happens when a prisoner is permanently injured, who carries THAT cost?

And what if a prisoner is killed in the 'line of duty?'  What payout is given to the family?  Please tell me that the prisoner is NOT entitled to PSO LODD death benefits?

It doesn’t and hasn’t taken any jobs from NO ONE. In case you haven’t noticed the economy is it very bad shape, so to allow us to create jobs at savings and do it safely should make people happy.


And then what? What happens when the economy improves and there is ample reason for a community to stop living off the govt and to fund their own dept? I doubt you would see a receptive audience to that, because they are getting this service for free from, yes, slave labor.


The hell with schooling, qualifications, certifications, valid driver's license and most importantly, a clean, law-abiding record, when we can just keep using the govt to provide our own community services in the form of slave prison labor. Yeah such a program may not have taken any jobs, but also prevents jobs as well.


In fact this program appears to be nothing more than a work-house from the days of Dickens. They way things are going, A Christmas Carol will be the daily norm again.

I could not disagree more strongly.


This programs does NOT create jobs - it puts prisoners in the role of slave labor while preventing actual job creation.


Then there is the issue of trust.  Study after study has shown that firefighters are the most trusted profession in the U.S.  That is why it is such a big deal when a firefighter breaks that trust and shows up on after doing something stupid and illegal.  That is also why we need to keep felons out of our profession, not in it.


I am OK with closely supervised prisoner hot-shot crews working large wildland fires, as they add manpower that would otherwise not be there.  That's not the case for local structural firefighters who have to be trusted in people's homes and businesses at all times of the day and night, and who cannot be closely supervised without distracting the attention of the local firefighters who have other critical duties.


I'm all for efficient use of the taxpayers money when the way to do it is rational and has no major problems.  Using prisoners as slave labor is not rational and using people who have been convicted of breaking the public trust in a profession that requires high levels of public trust doesn't make sense.  If the prisoners are so trustworthy, we might as well just give them guns and let them be police officers.

You pay the taxes anyway Federal, state or local. So this is not a free ride at the goverenment expense. As far as your referance to a Christmas Carol? I beleive that had a happy ending.

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