On Tuesday, August 6, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of a motion focused on increasing avenues to employment for LA County’s formerly incarcerated fire camp workers.
The LA County Sheriff’s Department pays $10 per day to send people locked in jails to state-run fire camps, where workers earn approximately $2 a day (and another $1 when they’re fighting fires). In order to be eligible for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s fire camp program, participants must have been sentenced to LA County jail under AB 109 (prison realignment), or must otherwise be jailed for nonserious, non-violent, and non-sex related crimes.
“Although Los Angeles County (County) relies heavily on some inmates to fight fires, it does not provide any path to employment in the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) upon their release,” Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis say in their motion. “Inmate training and labor may be useful, but constant reliance on it creates a disincentive for other County goals, such as decreasing incarceration and encouraging re-entry services.”
More importantly, LA County’s failure to connect fire camp workers with quality employment opportunities post-incarceration is a “missed opportunity” to reduce recidivism, the motion states.
“The Fire Camp program is one of the only inmate programs that lacks a direct employment linkage upon release, which negatively impacts participation in the program,” the motion says.
Despite their training and on-the-job experience, once released, fire camp participants’ convictions often preclude them from working as professional firefighters in their communities.
Licensing restrictions make it difficult for people with felony convictions to become certified firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
Yet fire departments are severely and chronically understaffed, leaving firefighters overworked.
Tuesday’s motion directs the county CEO, along with the fire chief, the sheriff, and other relevant county departments, to return to the board in 60 days with a report on how best to expand opportunities for fire camp participants.
Kuehl and Solis want the group to look at what it would take to launch a pilot reentry program that would allow fire camp participants to “transition…into the role of a Fire Suppression Aid” employed by the LA County Fire Department, as well as what county facilities–if any–could be used to house such reentry programs.
Last year, former Governor Jerry Brown set aside money to launch a training center in Ventura County where 80 people at a time can receive Firefighter 1 training and certification, in addition to housing, education, services, monthly pay, and job placement assistance. But the program is only open to people in prison, not local jails.
“This means that, even though the prison and jail inmates are housed at the same Fire Camp facilities, receive the same training, and work alongside one another in fighting and preventing our wildfires, only those inmates sentenced to State prison are eligible for the reentry training program in Ventura,” the motion says. “This significantly disadvantages our County jail inmates, all of whom will be released into our community without much hope of gaining employment. The creation of employment linkages for Fire Camp participants is imperative to furthering our goal of ‘care first, jail last’ and to preparing for and fighting future wildfires in our County.”
The motion calls on the county CEO to explore the feasibility of contracting with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in order to expand the state training center’s eligibility to include county inmates sentenced under AB 109–also known as prison realignment. (For those unfamiliar, in 2011, AB 109 shifted the incarceration burden for people convicted of certain low-level offenses away from California’s prison system—the largest in the nation until recently—to the states’ 58 counties.)
The CEO is also tasked with looking for funding options, including the possibility of using realignment funds to offset the cost of the program offerings suggested in the motion.
Image by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: On Wednesday, July 3, 2013, staff from the Inmate Fire Training Facility (Fire Camp) at Pitchess Detention Center (PDC) began an “Introduction to Fire Camp Training” course for interested female AB109 inmates.
This story was updated with additional information after the LA County Board of Supervisors’ August 6 meeting.
Call me crazy but why is it the county’s responsibility to find these inmates a job? How about they hire my daughter who has NO criminal record.
These are adults who are more than capable of grabbing the bull by the horns and going after what they want. Why are we going to make it easier for them than everyone else without a criminal record?
Those county supervisors have their priorities, screwed up. They go out of their way to make deputies criminals, homeless and mentally ill, while at the same time they try to rehabilitate career criminals, provide shelter and mental health to drug addicts. They suffer a mental disorder most likely, they are bi-polar. It is just a matter of time before the county gets sued by these inmates for rape allegations or something similar.
Speaking of corruption, does anybody know why the Captain from crooked IAB, Josie Woolum was rolled up to Men’s Central Jail? She oversaw the railroading of deputies, the systemic racism and egregious violations of the US Constitution, and Brady provisions affecting deputies and professional staff, mostly of color, during the reign of terror orchestrated by the McDonnell/Teran regime.
Being on a hand crew fighting brush fires seems like a young man’s job. Is hiring overweight female ex convicts the way to go? Every now and then we get some big brush fires around here, it would be nice to think we had some firefighters who were up to the task. Not just some derelicts who given make-work jobs on the hope they stay out of trouble.
Are you Kidding, I agree. I think the county and city have too many cushy jobs that we should probably leave for the private sector. I am especially concerned about the bloated budgets for Sheriff and LAPD.
Maj. Kong, I agree with you, too. I am concerned about overweight people on the government dime. Aside from those on the fire crew, I have seen some plump officers, especially on motorcycle duty. The gut, at times, covers the gas tank. How can they catch any criminals?
I think its an excellent idea… for people who don’t know, I was just release from LA county jail and was at la county fire camp 14. The inmate fire crews are probably the hardest working people in the county for pennies. LASD prepares the inmate with their own deputies on rigorous hikes with 30 pound packs 5 days a week for about 6 weeks before they are handed over to LaCoFire for 2 weeks of extensive training with actual foreman and FSA’s before they are sent to an actual fire camp in the county (4 male camps and 1 female camp in malibu). Then the foreman at the camps take the training to a higher level and make sure the inmate crews are up to par which is really hard work. The brush fires people see on TV are fought by inmates along side paid wildland firefighters with their faces right up in the fire on the fire line 12 hours at a time with little or no breaks in between with a pulaski (axe) and a gardening tool called a Mcleod. Yes as inmates, we did drop out of society and commit crime but some of us did better ourselves and VOLUNTEERED to be wildland firefighters alongside the paid crews. BTW from the LASD deputies to the LACoFire captains and Foreman, they treat the inmates with the upmost respect and vice versa… that is why we have extra benefits from regular inmates stuck behind the wall at the county jail like contact visits with our families and loved ones. I myself was release sep. 25, 2019 and am currently looking for a job to get back on my feet without crime or narcotics. Being in a LaCoFire firecamp did make me a better person than I ever was before and showed me that real hard work does pay off.