A bill sponsored by state Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Dylan Roberts of Avon that would allow the state of Colorado to hire back former members of the State Wildland Inmate Fire Team moved through the legislative process of the Colorado General Assembly with broad support.
The bill, SB21-012 passed in both the Senate and the House last month. In the Senate, the bill received 33 aye votes and 1 no, and the House gave the bill 60 ayes and 3 no’s.
The bill would direct the division of fire protection and control to develop materials to increase awareness of opportunities for wildland fire careers for those who gained experience in that job while incarcerated.
SWIFT was formed by Colorado Correctional Industries after the state’s 2000 fire season. The crews, made up of inmates at state correctional facilities in Cañon City, Rifle and at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex, are made available to the Colorado State Forest Service and other agencies to assist in fighting wildland fires.
There are currently 29 SWIFT crew members, 6 of whom are from BVCC, said DOC spokeswoman Annie Skinner.
Skinner said that the department expects to see those numbers increase once COVID restrictions lessen.
“This legislation is a great start in helping to find a path forward for these highly trained individuals after they leave incarceration,” said Colorado Department of Corrections executive director Dean Williams. “The individuals who work on these SWIFT crews have proven time and time again that they are trustworthy, reliable, and will work hard to provide a critical fire protection and prevention service during their incarceration.
“Many of these crew members have fought on the front lines of the largest fires that have happened in Colorado,” Williams said.
Skinner said that being a SWIFT firefighter is a “highly sought after position” in the Colorado corrections system.
“The inmate must meet very high standards in order to participate. These men greatly appreciate being able to be part of something that makes a positive impact,” Skinner said.
In 2019, firefighters were deployed from BVCC to help fight the Decker Fire burning south of Salida.