Prison crews accustomed to fires respond to flood

Rifle and other Colorado prison crews used to fighting fires were being deployed today in response to the Front Range flooding.

Jack Laughlin, who oversees the Colorado Department of Corrections’ State Wildland Inmate Fire Team, said the program was asked to provide assistance Thursday night, and crews from the Rifle Correctional Center and prisons in Buena Vista and Cañon City are responding.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever had a crew up on something like this so we look forward to it,” he said.

Laughlin spoke by cell phone from a Boulder park while with the Cañon City contingent. He said other crews were still en route.

“We’re just awaiting further instructions,” he said.

He said emergency officials wanted to make sure DOC had trained sawyers in the group, “which we do.”

DOC has offered help in doing saw work to clear up debris and assisting in evacuations, he said.

From Laughlin’s vantage point in Boulder, he saw no immediate damage but he said washed-out areas were visible in the foothills.

He added, “We had a quite a journey here because of closed roads and washed-out roads.”

He said one Rifle crew of about 16 firefighters and two staff was responding with half of a second crew that will combine with a half-crew coming from Buena Vista.

Through Colorado’s SWIFT teams, inmates are able to train for a possible post-prison career, gain earned time and give back to communities through firefighting and fire mitigation work. While they’re now encountering a far-different situation than burning forests, they’re not exactly the only firefighters responding to the flood scene.

“There are other fire crews here as well. (Emergency responders) need some resources on the ground. That’s what we’re here for,” Laughlin said.

Rifle’s crews this summer fought blazes including two just a handful of miles from their prison north of Rifle.

“It was a good summer (for SWIFT crews), not as busy as last year, but we’ve done some good work and guys got some good experience,” Laughlin said.

Now they’ll be broadening that experience considerably before the summer comes to an end.



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