The Board of Supervisors approved a motion on Tuesday ordering a report back on the feasibility of developing a reentry job training program for probationers who participate in our LA County Fire Camp Program. The program would continue the training and find jobs for the trainees with our LA County Fire Department.

The Fire Camp Program provides training and real-life fire-fighting experience for inmates who volunteer for the grueling, yet rewarding program. Inmates must pass a fitness test before undergoing a rigorous training program that teaches them some of the technical skills involved in professional firefighting. In addition to the formal training, Fire Camp participants also learn concepts and behaviors that are valuable to future employment such as teamwork, professionalism, and organizational skills. Inmates who participate in the Fire Camp Program improve their sense of self-worth, and the work they do at these camps not only helps us fight wildfires but also supports rehabilitation, personal growth, and the chance to start a new life.

Unfortunately, the Fire Camp program is one of the only inmate programs that lack a direct employment linkage upon release. Despite having learned and applied skills comparable to that of a trained professional firefighter, a number of these inmates will find themselves unable to gain employment in LA County and other urban areas where Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certifications are required. Criminal records bar a majority of Fire Camp participants from receiving their EMT certifications, thus bringing their pathway to employment to a grinding halt. There are state and federal positions that do not require such certifications, but figuring out how to apply for these positions can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate.

Three important pieces of state legislation have been passed addressing this gap. AB 1812 permits CAL FIRE to issue Emergency Medical Responder (EMR) certifications to Fire Camp graduates who receive a letter of recommendation from the Director of CAL FIRE and who worked towards their high school diploma or equivalent during the training program. AB 2138 limits the authority of licensing boards to deny, revoke, or suspend a professional license based on a criminal conviction that is at least seven years old and not substantially related to the profession. Lastly, AB 2293 requires Emergency Medical Services agencies to report on how criminal convictions impact professional licensure annually. The State also created a training program for parolees called the Ventura Training Center, facilitated by a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, CAL FIRE, California Conservation Corps, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

LA County will build on this momentum through the creation of a reentry job training program connected to the LA County Fire Department. This week, a motion authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis calls for a 60-day report back on the feasibility of creating such a program or contracting with CAL FIRE so that County probationers can qualify for the State’s training program. A County reentry program, along with expanded access to State resources, can provide employment linkages that will encourage long term stability and discourage recidivism.

During times of crisis, LA County and the State of California rely heavily on these inmate fire crews to fight wildfires, voluntarily putting their lives on the line to keep communities safe. In return, the government should support these brave individuals in their pathway to employment post-incarceration and give them a chance to put all of their hard work to good use.