California To Help Incarcerated People Who Fought Against Wildfires Get Jobs As Firefighters In The State
The bill excludes people convicted of violent crimes and sex offenses.
September 14, 2020 at 6:45 pm
Incarcerated people in California who helped fight fires in the state will have a chance to clear their criminal records and pursue a career as a firefighter.
According to NPR, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday to extend the opportunity to incarcerated people, making it easier for them to get firefighting jobs after being released from prison.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Eloise Reyes, will make prisoners eligible for an EMT certification, which is required to get hired at municipal firefighting departments.
“I think that after seeing all these young men and women stand side by side with our other fire crews and knowing that they had no hope of entering that profession, I knew that it was wrong and that we needed to do something about it,” Reyes said.
Although the state has used incarcerated people as firefighters for 80 years, the governor said the system needs to be reformed.
"California's inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform," Newsom said in a statement. "Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter."
CA’s inmate firefighter program is decades-old and has long needed reform.— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 11, 2020
Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter.
Today, I signed #AB2147 that will fix that. pic.twitter.com/15GJ7Gijt7
According to AB 2147, the bill excludes people convicted of violent crimes and sex offenses, who are ineligible to fight fires and barred from having their records cleared.
Michael Gerbe, who was convicted of a robbery at 19 years old in 2011 and sentenced to 10 years, said he learned about the firefighting program during his fourth year in prison "and that changed everything," NPR reported.
Gerbe said he completed the rigorous process to join the program and battled fires for $1.90 a day. The firefighter said he works for Cal Fire while he is now on parole, but he can't get far in his career without an EMT.
"Without the training I can't get certain jobs. I can't do what an EMT does. So it limits me and it would limit me for promotions," he told NPR. "If I'm up against three or four other guys and they all have EMTs, I'm not ever going to get the job."
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation works with Cal Fire and the Los Angeles County Fire Department to lead the Conservation Camp Program, which employs about 200 incarcerated people every year to battle brush fires. Now, the aspiring firefighters could have an easier path to reach their goals after prison.
"Rehabilitation without strategies to ensure the formerly incarcerated have a career is a pathway to recidivism," Reyes said in a statement. "We must get serious about providing pathways for those that show the determination to turn their lives around."
California is currently seeing historic wildfires across the state, with more than 3 million acres burned so far, along with more than 6,000 structures destroyed and 20 people dead, NPR reported.
Reyes, who represents San Bernardino County, east of Los Angeles, said help is especially needed in her district, where the El Dorado fire is raging.
“We need more firefighters, and we need an opportunity for second chances,” she said, according to NBC News. “We need to reward rehabilitation.”
According to ABC10, the state has been struggling to get assistance this year because the coronavirus allowed many prisoners to be released early.