Create a Website Account - Manage notification subscriptions, save form progress and more.
Department of Corrections Employees Provide Assistance to Wildfire Victims
By Rachel Thomson, DOC CommunicationsOkanogan fire image
As wildfires ravage Washington, Department of Corrections employees are working with local governments, non-profits and volunteers to aid and comfort victims of the blazes.
Wildfires have scorched more than 500,000 acres across central and eastern Washington in recent weeks, the state Department of Emergency Management reported. More than 200 homes statewide have been destroyed, while thousands more homes and structures remain threatened.
The fires have not posed major threats to any of the agency’s 12 prisons or any of its field offices or work release facilities.
To help local communities, the Department of Corrections is sending out it’s Incident Management Team, which provides logistical, planning, operations and public information support to areas affected by wildfires, according to Greg Miller, chief of emergency operations.
In addition the department has deployed ten emergency response team members from Airway Heights Corrections Center to the Okanogan County Jail to provide relief staffing for their employees who have been evacuated, or lost their homes.
DOC staff have spent many hours answering phone calls, directing evacuees, and providing relief to exhausted emergency workers.
In Okanogan County, for example, three community corrections officers and one community corrections supervisor spent a day last week answering calls at the emergency operations center to relieve workers who’d already put in long shifts, said Tim Logan, a community corrections officer at the Okanogan field office.
“We were hammered with calls from citizens asking for information,” Logan said.
Some DOC employees at the Okanogan Community Corrections field office have housed local residents who’ve lost homes in nearby wildfires.
DOC staff is following media reports and tracking evacuation levels set forth by county emergency management officials closely. With only one exception, Logan said, everyone’s been able to report to work, but he’s told employees to notify him if they get into a situation where they can’t come in.
He said the employees have also taken measures to reach offenders on community supervision who live in high-risk areas. They call them to see if they’ve been evacuated, where they’ve been evacuated, and if they know where local shelters have been set up.
“It’s definitely a great feeling to be part of the solution,” Logan said. “Hopefully, we’ve helped people be safer.”
Jamison Roberts, who normally reports to work at the agency’s headquarters in Tumwater, was sent to Stevens County last Monday as part of the Incident Management Team. He and six other employees were deployed from DOC locations around the state to work at the emergency operations center at Colville.
The team has helped in many ways including working with county emergency management officials to create and maintain a website with a map of road closures and address of shelters for evacuees, helping secure an area for military helicopters to land, and working with the Red Cross to monitor shelter availability in nearby counties.
Roberts said aiding local communities during the fires has been a great opportunity for outsiders to learn more about the department, which helps strengthen relationships in the communities it serves.
“During this deployment, team members were able to interact with community members, county employees, and elected officials from all levels of local and state government,” Roberts said. “We have a very diverse pool of knowledge and experience and it’s been absolutely phenomenal building those relationships.”
Other government agencies have also stepped in to help DOC employees that have been deployed. Stevens County Auditor, Tim Gray, owns a five bedroom home not far from the emergency operations center. He’s been allowing DOC staff to stay there during their deployment, according to Roberts.
“It was very generous of him. It’s been very nice and they’ve been very well taken care of.” The Washington State Combined Fund Drive also serves as a way for the public to donate to charities that provide direct relief to areas affected by the wildfires.