Always Unprepared

At MetroWest Detention Center one bad fire deserves another -- and another?

No one, apparently, paid enough attention to the inspector's memo to check all the equipment in the jail, thus allowing the same thing to happen months later in the jail's most secure area.

Corrections has always been the poor stepchild of the county's public safety sector -- comprising the corrections, police, and fire departments -- always struggling for money and respect. It's not a high-profile job, like cop or firefighter, and so it always remains politically vulnerable and the director is under a lot of pressure to trim costs. But to ignore corrections and its needs can be catastrophic.

In fact the two fires occurred amid plans to change the department's Mandatory In-Service Training in order to cut costs. The state requires corrections officers to undergo at least one week of training every four years. Traditionally the department sent officers to an academy at Miami-Dade Community College's north campus, for refresher courses in firearms use, CPR, and firefighting, among other things. But several months ago, the department switched the training, so that now it will be conducted in-house using other guards as field training officers. The change saves money because the officers are not taken out of rotation for a week. But it has prompted several officers to complain the new plan is far inferior. "Somebody walks around and gives you a book while you're on shift. Then they test you on it," one officer says.

After initially dismissing the fire's significance, Director Spears said she needed to review the facts surrounding both incidents and get back to New Times. By press time she had not called.

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