Keeping up the camp: Go behind the scenes at Pine Grove

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp Supervising Cook Warren Clark and a juvenile offender work in the camp kitchen.

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp Supervising Cook Warren Clark and a juvenile offender work in the camp kitchen.

By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

At 71 years and still going strong, Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp (PGYCC) is the oldest continuously operated fire camp in California.

PGYCC, operated jointly by CAL FIRE and CDCR’s Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), houses around 65 youth offenders ranging in age from 18 to 23.

Juvenile offenders are selected to serve their time at PGYCC because of their willingness to work hard, sometimes for long hours and often in dangerous conditions.

The youth are compensated for their work. Their pay goes into a trust account, part of which goes to victim restitution and the other to the offender to help him when he transitions back to the community. The lead on each crew makes $2 per day, while his No. 2 makes $1.50 a day. Everyone makes a minimum of $1 per day. When on the fire lines, firefighters are paid $1 on top of their other set wages.

The youth offenders at PGYCC also get two-for-one good time credits on their sentence, which means two days off for every day they are involved in the program.

The days are long on the fire line, shifts generally consisting of 24 hours on, 24 hours off. And since there are four fire crews, and they could all be fighting fires somewhere in the state, who gets things done around camp when there are 50-60 guys out?

“They don’t always come here to this camp to work the fire line,” explained Supervising Cook Warren Clark. “We do bring guys in occasionally who work maintenance, in the kitchen, warehouse, etc.”

On a recent visit, there were enough bodies in camp to get some other work done. Fire crews 1 and 4 were out doing local creek cleanup, which meant two other crews, 2 and 3 , or nearly 25 offenders, were still at PGYCC; their in-camp job: washing and rolling up hundreds of feet of fire hose.

Every day is a challenge, Clark said. “The biggest challenge is getting a head count for every meal. Two crews may be out, but two crews are still in camp, and then there are the guys who work around the camp, and of course the staff. And the training crew, so I have to account for how many are doing their physical fitness training that day,” he said.

If all four crews are out, that leaves a handful of people to prepare the meals, maintain the grounds, and work the warehouse. But what if a few firefighters are unable to go out that day?

Debbie Lehman is the PGYCC nurse.

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp Nurse Debbie Lehman attends to a juvenile offender.

Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp Nurse Debbie Lehman attends to a juvenile offender.

“I get here at 6 a.m., the guys get up at 6:45,” she said. “That’s when I head to the dorm, check the sick call log, pass out the medications, talk to the staff and see who may be under the weather that day.”

Lehman said the crews head to breakfast at 7:15 a.m. and are done by 7:45; that’s when she sees the firefighters in her office and determines who can and who can’t go that day.

“I have the final say. These guys work hard, and are out in the wilderness a lot so I see a lot of ankle sprains, poison oak, sore backs, scrapes and scratches, and bug bites,” Lehman explained.

Staff explained a few young offenders stay in camp all the time because of disabilities; for example, one person who was shot before he came to CDCR and has a rod in his leg.

In total, if there are 60 juvenile offenders total at camp, an estimated 50 would be on a fire crew, and the remaining 10 or so would serve their sentences working the camp, staff explained.

Two crews in camp on a recent visit were busy power-washing buildings and hoses that needed to be cleaned up after a recent fire. A couple crew members were clipping the ends off fire hoses because the nozzles are worn out or defective. But they will salvage the hoses.

Warehouse work usually means working side-by-side with a CAL FIRE captain to service  hand tools used for fighting fires or vehicle maintenance, and one juvenile offender maintains the grounds, doing the mowing and weed-whacking.

There’s also school. Those working on their high school diplomas or GEDs go to class from 5:30 to 10 p.m.

Then it’s lights-out at 10:15 p.m., then back up at 6:45 a.m. to start a new day.

Juvenile offenders at Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp clean fire hoses.

Juvenile offenders at Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp clean fire hoses.

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