ST MARYS, Ga. (AP) - Camden County officials are considering a money-saving program that would put inmates in fire stations.
The program would put two inmates in each of three existing firehouses in the south Georgia county, The Florida Times-Union reported (http://bit.ly/nZbutT).
Inmates would respond to all emergencies - including residential fires - alongside traditional firefighters, authorities said.
The inmates would have no guard, but would be monitored by a surveillance system and by the traditional firefighters, who would undergo training to guard the inmates. One traditional firefighter with correctional training can supervise up to three inmates, officials said.
The inmate firefighter program could save the county more than $500,000 a year by some estimates, authorities said.
The program would be open to inmates charged with crimes such as drug offenses and thefts. Inmates would also need to have a record of good behavior and pass an interview process.
The idea has been met with controversy in the county.
There's "a lot of contention" among local firefighters about working alongside inmates, Camden County Public Safety Director Dennis Gailey said.
"If you vote to bring these inmates into our working environment, you jeopardize not only the employees' well-being, but the safety of our citizens," firefighter Stuart Sullivan told county commissioners during a recent meeting.
Commissioner Jimmy Starline said it might be a positive experience for the prisoners.
"I've been told these inmates are very enthusiastic about being a firefighter," Starline said.
"It's an opportunity to break that cycle," he added. "This is not like a chain gang. Life at a fire station could be a whole lot more pleasant than life in jail."