EL DORADO COUNTY (CBS13) — Inmate fire crews battle on the front lines along professional firefighters. One group at the King Fire is lucky to be alive after having to deploy fire shelters when flames went over top of them Monday.

“They know what hard time is,” said Cal Fire Capt. Rick Vallejo of his team of 16 prisoners. “We get them at the fire camp and they’re on they’re best behavior. We’re 24/7 365 days with these guys.”

They may not be the typical heroes, but Cal Fire says inmate crews hold the front lines along side professional firefighters.

“Are they the same level as the professionals? No,” said Cal Fire Deputy Chief Randy Smith. “But they do receive training on how to survive and how to build fire lines.”

The inmates in the fire program have two or three years left to serve in their prison sentence. They volunteer for six months of training.

“When we get them here, we put them through an additional six months of training,” said Vallejo. “Their training is every day. Most of these guys are from the inner city, so out here in the woods they don’t have any woodsmanship. Everything they learn, they learn from their captain.”

In exchange, prisoners shave time off their sentence.

“Some of the guys get a one for one: everyday they’re out here they get one day off,” said Vallejo.

Firefighters say they’re lucky to have the inmate teams and say they risk their lives just as the professional firefighters.

“They look out for me just as much as I look out for them,” said Vallejo.

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