California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday accelerating the process for expunging the felony records of formerly incarcerated volunteer firefighters.
This new law is designed to make it far easier for former inmates to earn an emergency medical technician certification, the first step in becoming a professional firefighter in most cities and counties. For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke.
Yet these men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property have found ir impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.
𝐀𝐍𝐘𝐎𝐍𝐄 𝐖𝐇𝐎 𝐎𝐏𝐏𝐎𝐒𝐄𝐒 𝐄𝐗-𝐈𝐍𝐌𝐀𝐓𝐄 𝐇𝐈𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐁𝐘 𝐅𝐈𝐑𝐄 𝐃𝐄𝐏𝐀𝐑𝐓𝐌𝐄𝐍𝐓𝐒 𝐎𝐑 𝐓𝐇𝐈𝐍𝐊 𝐈𝐍𝐌𝐀𝐓𝐄𝐒 𝐀𝐑𝐄 𝐆𝐄𝐓𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆 “𝐑𝐈𝐂𝐇” 𝐛𝐲 𝐉𝐎𝐈𝐍𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐀 𝐅𝐈𝐑𝐄𝐅𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐂𝐑𝐄𝐖 𝐖𝐇𝐈𝐋𝐄 𝐈𝐍𝐂𝐀𝐑𝐂𝐄𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐄𝐃:
To qualify, inmates cannot have any gang affiliation, any history of a serious or violent felony, the nature of their conviction is rigorously reviewed and a high school or GED diploma is required before an inmate can even apply for the program. Each inmate must be medically certified under state fitness standards outlined under the National Fire Protection Association Standard on Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Depts. 2007 Edition (NFPA 1582).
After many weeks of physical training running 10 miles a day in full firefighting gear carrying 80 lb. packs and holding a 6 lb. pick head fire ax, testing commences, and only a few inmates pass the preliminary prerequisites actually qualify. Once accepted into the Fire Fighting Program; Series courses are 4-6 weeks of classroom instruction (NFPA 1001, NFPA 1021, and NFPA 1500) which includes EMT/paramedic certification, basic medical training, fire safety, and control, wildland fires, search and rescue evacuations (people AND animals), evidence protection, forcible entry, fire behavior, and control, mechanical malfunctions, emergencies, inmates are even trained in response to terrorism among a few of the classroom classes.
Inmate firefighters also need to complete 40 and 50 hours a week equaling 450 hours at the fire academy before applying for certification. Then 𝐈𝐅 and 𝐎𝐍𝐋𝐘 𝐈𝐅 they pass 𝐀𝐋𝐋 of the above requirements inmates spend 5 days per week digging ditches and clearing fire breaks, felling trees and logging them out of dense forests, loading sandbags for future use, restoring historical areas, maintaining parks, clearing dead dry brush and other fire hazards, identifying dangerous injured and frightened animals including venomous snakes, inmates are available year-round for assistance with non-fire, woods-related programs, and environmental projects as well as being loaned out to local private landowners to backburn and remove hazards from acreage (the correctional facility gets paid a large amount, inmates do not receive extra compensation). All these “𝐁𝐄𝐅𝐎𝐑𝐄” inmates actually go out to fight fires.
So, if you even remotely think “It’s a way they can repay their debt to society” “become millionaires” or don’t “deserve a job” they’ve been extensively trained in, I hope you never have to depend on these highly skilled inmates to rescue you or your loved ones because you have only to look around and allow yourself to truly see what’s going on in order to understand lives are at risk, including your own and your families. These men and women are not inmates fighting fires, they’re exactly the same as any other 𝐇𝐄𝐑𝐎𝐄𝐒 𝐅𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆 𝐅𝐈𝐑𝐄𝐒.
Human Rights Advocate, Researcher/Chronological Archivist and member in good standing with the Constitution First Amendment Press Association (CFAPA.org)
Kristeen Irigoyen-Hernandez aka Lady2Soothe Follow @OurVoicesEcho