A Day in the Life of a Camp Commander

A job with many hats

By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer

Among California’s 44 conservation camps are the Camp Commanders who are responsible for the day-to-day needs and supervision of inmates in sometimes remote locations without perimeter fences.

The Camp Commanders are responsible for the supervision of all custody staff, inmates, purchasing/budget, and ensuring the needs of the inmates on the fire lines are being met as the agency representative for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Lt. Michael D’Arcy, a Camp Commander for 14 years and a total of 28 years with CDCR runs Prado Camp in Chino.

“You’re responsible for the entire operation of the camp,” Lt. D’Arcy said. The Camp Commander’s responsibilities include food service, inmate canteen, medical care for inmates, emergency response, and coordination with local government and law enforcement agencies, he said.

Prado Camp

This file photo shows a crew from the Prado Camp at work.

When the camp is called to support the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (Cal Fire), the Camp Commander decides what crew or crews respond; typically the crew with the least amount of hours is selected to ensure crews receive an equal amount of work.

On the fire site, the Camp Commanders make sure inmates receive proper food and water, rest breaks, medical attention, and are provided adequate sanitation such as portable toilets.

When the crews are not assisting on the fire lines, the Camp Commander reviews requests for public works projects, among other things. When a camp receives work project requests, sometimes from the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Parks and Recreation, U.S. Forest Service, airports, and local governments, the Camp Commander determines the suitability of the project for the inmates.

Lt. Randy Sherer, a Camp Commander of Deadwood Conservation Camp in remote Siskiyou County, has been with the Conservation Camps program for 22 years. His camp completes, on average, 75 community works projects every quarter.

He knows well the responsibilities and duties required to run a 24/7 operation, supervising inmates without perimeter fences and locked cells.

“Whatever community a camp is located in the goal is to be a positive member of the community and public safety is our first priority.” Sherer said. “We don’t have fences and the doors aren’t locked.”

He said inmates are continually evaluated to protect the public.

Making sure the camp is running smoothly can be even more difficult when it’s more than four hours from the nearest institution. Planning ahead for supplies, food, other essentials and efficient use of resources is a must for an effective camp commander.

Despite the immense responsibility, Lts. D’Arcy and Sherer believe in the positive effect the conservation camps program has on rehabilitating inmates.

“I’ve seen hundreds of homes burn in a single afternoon, but I’ve also seen inmates, supervised by Cal Fire, save hundreds of homes in an afternoon,” Lt. Sherer said. “The camps program gives inmates meaningful work to do and as far as rehabilitation, the program is one of the most effective within CDCR.”

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3 Responses

  1. Elina Appleton Tuesday, May 28, 2013 / 6:27 pm

    I am a prison nurse at San Quentin. A few years ago I was the only responder to a fatality/casualty car accident and had to manage 2 live passengers and 1 dead passenger by myself. I was out of cell phone range and had to wait for another passerby to call 911. A fire camp in Trinity, CA responded 10 minutes after the call was made first and they were the most professional, well trained groups of indivuals who came in and swiftly stabilized the 2 living, covered the deceased and did so with calmness and emphathy towards the live patients. I have never been so happy to look up and see CDCR on a pant leg before and will always credit these individuals for their good work and abilities. I felt so alone out there trying to deal with the emotional and hurt parents on the side of the road so I am thankful for the training that the fire camp inmates recieved and displayed on that day.

  2. JOY Thursday, May 23, 2013 / 9:06 pm

    Keep up the great work Lt. Sherer!

  3. Valerie Marshall Tuesday, May 21, 2013 / 3:26 pm

    The Conservation Camp is a rewarding program for the inmates. While doing community service the inmates are being enriched with self esteem and rehabilitation. My Son was at Deadwood with Lt. Randy Sherer and shared with me his last conversation with him prior to being moved. His Cal Fire Captain encouraged him to advance himself. He has. Cal Fire crews are a very big part also of the success of the inmates. Great program. We need more of this type to help the inmates turn their lives around. Thank you Cal Fire and all that participate in this program.

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