A group of prison firefighters in Nevada has filed a lawsuit alleging that they were “mocked and ignored” by their supervisors after suffering burns during a wildfire clean-up assignment. The complaint, filed by the ACLU of Nevada on Thursday, details how the firefighters’ feet burned and their socks melded to their skin during the assignment, leaving several of them unable to walk, stand or shower without assistance for several days.
According to the lawsuit, the firefighters were not provided with adequate medical treatment after informing their supervisors of their injuries, which were later determined to be second-degree burns and blisters. The complaint alleges negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of state and federal constitutional bans on cruel and unusual punishment.
The lawsuit seeks at least $700,000 in damages for the seven plaintiffs, as well as several changes in training and policy, and discipline for state employees “whose negligence and/or intentional conduct results in injury to … people required to work while incarcerated.” The defendants named in the lawsuit include the Nevada Division of Forestry and Department of Corrections, their respective department heads, and several forestry employees who were on-site and allegedly did not act on complaints.
The firefighters were trained at Jean Conservation Camp, the only training facility owned by the Nevada Division of Forestry designed for incarcerated women, and state corrections employees supervised the camp. The complaint alleges that the defendants’ training and equipment were “dangerously deficient” for incarcerated firefighters, and that the three days of in-class training before firefighters are sent to fire scenes is inadequate.
The ACLU is also calling for a way to report negligent supervision without fear of retaliation and for a policy to provide newer equipment for firefighters.
In Nevada, certain incarcerated people are eligible for wildland firefighting under certain requirements and are paid $24 per day. As of 2021, prison firefighters made up about 30% of the state Division of Forestry’s fire response capacity.
The lawsuit has been filed to ensure that no one is ever treated in this way again, said Chris Peterson, legal director of the ACLU of Nevada. “Our clients are not disposable. These are human beings, and they have rights,” he added.
The defendants have declined to comment on the pending litigation. The plaintiffs are requesting a trial by jury.