CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. --
A select group of inmates may get the chance to get out of jail to fight fires and respond to medical emergencies in Camden County. At least that's an idea being tossed around to help solve the county's budget woes.
Residents of the county are also talking about the idea, and many of them aren't happy.
"It still would make me nervous as a female out by myself running errands. So I don't know," Kingsland resident Claire Renas said.
"Prison and jail are to rehabilitate people. So I believe people should have second chances. People do change," resident and supporter of the idea Tiffany Baker said.
Many county firefighters, who wanted to remain anonymous, said they feared for their safety, and they and their families don't like the idea of working so hard for a profession that could be given to convicts.
Lawmakers, however, say something has to be done.
"I wouldn't want to say that I'm in favor of it, but I'm definitely interested in it," Camden County Commissioner Jimmy Starline said. "So far, I haven't seen enough downsides to it to make me think that it wouldn't work for us."
Starline recently visited Sumter County, Ga., where prisoners have been working as firefighters for two years now. By all accounts, the program is very successful. Inmate firefighters don't make a salary and are relatively inexpensive to train, feed and house.
"They would work 24/7. They would never leave the fire station unless on calls," Starline said. "They would live at the fire station."
Starline said the program would only accept nonviolent offenders with good behavior, and they'd be monitored by closed-circuit television cameras and staff firefighters. Starline said the county can't afford to hire additional firefighters, but at the same time, residents need more public safety workers.
If more firefighters aren't brought on in Camden County, lawmakers say residents' insurance rates will go up because there just aren't enough men and women to protect the area's people and property.
"This would not lay off any firemen. That's not the intention at all," Starline said. "This would supplement the firemen that we have."
"The people that I talked to have told me if their house is on fire and they're inside, or if they're having a heart attack laying on the floor, they don't care who's coming to get them," Starline said.
Commissioners say the idea would first have to be approved by the Georgia Department of Corrections, then it would have to be written up as a proposal, which could only then be voted on by the commissioners.
It will take weeks until lawmakers would have the chance to vote on whether inmates could man the county's fire stations.
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