Correctional institute firefighters to be housed at fire training center

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A proposal to house inmate firefighters from the Jackson County Correctional Institute at the Jackson County Fire Training Center was among the agenda items prompting some firey exchanges between Jackson County commissioners on Feb. 18.

The ongoing matter of the new EMS station being constructed in West Jackson also provided a bit of banter, however, a called 6:30 p.m. Monday meeting will be dedicated to that subject which includes litigation and finger-pointing.

The inmate firefighter housing issue was on the agenda at the request of Chairman Tom Crow, who was taken to task by Commissioner Chas Hardy. He was critical of the lack of advance information provided to comissioners.

At Monday’s meeting, Jackson County CI warden Johnny Weaver and Fire Chief Terry Shadburn said Terrell County has had a similar housing situation in place for five years with success. The change would enhance response time and also provide needed separation of the 10-man team of CI firefighters from other inmates.

“Let’s have a professional meeting and discuss the pros and cons and let’s make a good decision,” said Hardy, who said he didn’t think the citizens built a $4.5 million fire station to be a prison. “We are not having an intelligent discussion on this; it’s a dog and pony show.”

Hardy said there was nothing in the packet on the agenda item. He and Commissioner Bruce Yates questioned why a staff report with recommendation was not included as a part of the agenda package as is usually the case. Yates said he would like to see the procedures in writing before voting.

“Don’t insult my intelligence,” said Hardy, who looked to Crow, saying he didn’t like having Crow decide the arrangement was what he wanted so you “ram it down my throat.” Hardy said he supports the firefighting team at the CI but also recalls when the CI fire department was shut down because of issues while the department was running a neighboring county’s fire station.

Poe said background information had been gathered and some research has been done but he had not compiled a formal report. If a policy decision is made by the commission to proceed, Poe said there would a cost of a couple of thousand dollars for surveillance cameras and some staffing changes to provide for the 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. shift to provide the hourly inmate count required by the state.

Chairman Crow said the CI fire crew serves as a benefit to the fire departments and would be of great aid if they arrived sooner to help with extinguishing a fire in addition to mop up and cleanup duties.

Several county fire chiefs were in the audience to speak to the importance of the CI firefighters arriving on the scene of a fire to assist volunteers. Having the guard at the training center with CI firefighters rather than being dispatched from home to come and pick up the CI firefighters would put the crew at a fire scene quicker.

“They are totally invaluable to us,” said Parker Griffin of the Arcade and Jefferson stations. In his 20 years with Arcade, he said the CI crew has been used a lot and without a single problem.

“We’ve been waiting since the 1990s for

this,” said Maysville Area Volunteer Fire Chief James Lyle, who noted the CI crew may be his only backup at a fire scene.

Weaver said there have 300 firefighters trained at the CI and he knows of only two who have recommitted crimes. He said inmates must meet certain criteria before they can be considered for the training assignment.

Some current CI firefighters have been abused by other inmates as they are in the regular population, said Weaver. Previously at the other facility, the CI firefighters were in different quarters. Two firefighters have been lost from the crew because of the treatment from other inmates.

“But they are there because they have committed a crime,” said 20-year Commerce Fire Department veteran Hardy, who reminded about problems with contraband the county has had with other inmates on work details. He said he was concerned about supervision.

“I would like to see more information to make a better informed decision,” said Hardy, who requested to also meet with the firefighters association.

Yates was concerned about the lack of a plan. “This is just a request,” he said.

“This has been planned for years,” said Commissioner Dwain Smith, in making the motion to authorize the housing change for the CI firefighters. “We need to get the ball rolling.”

The motion, which was seconded by Chairman Crow, passed with Smith, Crow and Hix voting yes with opposition from Hardy and Yates.