Bill Watch

Opening up New Avenues for Formerly Incarcerated Californians Who Served in Fire Camps to Get Jobs as Firefighters After Prison

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

A new California bill aims to make it possible for formerly incarcerated individuals, thousands of whom have served on inmate firefighting crews, to become professional firefighters upon their release from prison.

California’s inmate conservation camp program saves the state millions of dollars each year, since the state’s approximately 2,600 incarcerated firefighters are paid approximately $2 a day (and another $1 when they’re fighting fires). Only people convicted of low-level offenses are eligible for the program.

Despite their training and on-the-job experience, once released, program participants’ convictions are often precluded 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.

Last year, then-Governor Jerry Brown approved AB 579, which required the CA Division of Apprenticeship Standards to develop a firefighter pre-apprenticeship program focused on recruiting future firefighters from groups that are underrepresented in the field of firefighting.

This year’s bill, AB 1211, authored by Assemblymember Eloise Reyes, would declare the CA legislature’s intent to enact legislation to develop a route for formerly incarcerated individuals “who have demonstrated substantial rehabilitation” to become firefighters.

Still, the state legislature has been unable to pass legislation that outright bans agencies from denying firefighting work to people with criminal convictions. Reyes’s 2019 bill takes a softer approach to the issue.

Former Governor Brown, too, took steps to improve firefighting job prospects for formerly incarcerated people who volunteered at the state’s fire camps while locked up.

Last year, 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.

Photo via California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation


  • The problem with silly hair-brained ideas like giving convicts positions of trust is that you don’t find out it’s a horrible idea until it’s too late. Only after the rape, murder, and looting does it become obvious that this may not have been a good idea. (Something tells me cf will think this has something to do with wal-mart and cadets)

  • I was going to say inmates aren’t stupid, but the reality is, many are. Most understand they’ll never become professional firefighters because of their criminal past and yet, often risk their lives for pennies. Inmates try to get on work details of ANY kind as a way to break up the boredom of jail. Having said that, I have nothing but respect for the men and women who are part of this program.

    However, to even begin the discussion on allowing convicted criminals to get hired as firefighters shocks me….even in this state. Professional firefighter positions are extremely sought after and many young men and women who’ve obtained college degrees as well as EMT certifications and NOT committed crimes can’t get hired. Are we now going to reward those who’ve broken the law and served time in jail with one of the most coveted careers in the public sector? To effectively propose some sort of inmate affirmative action is madness.

  • What a joke. Let’s give a career criminal a position of trust.. Yeah, smart move California. This state is definitely on a down spiral

  • This has to be one of the dummest ideas I’ve ever seen. Celeste we honorably agree to disagree on most topics, but this is utterly atrocious. What the hell does “substantial rehabilitation,” mean?

  • Aren’t firefighters considered mandated reporters with respect certain crimes they are made aware of? Aren’t firefighters also afforded additional protections under the law during the performance of their duties and held to a “higher morale standard” when their behaviors are judged?

    Uh..yeah…sounds like a well thought idea. Gooooo…legislature.

  • It’s a great idea. On a case by case basis. For those coming out of the fire camps who have shown tremendous morality and skill. Who are recommended by their Cal Fire captains. They have to compete. No affirmative action. But if they meet all of these criteria, and beat out the non former felon in academics and physical, they shouldn’t be banned from wildland firefighting.

  • Gentlemen, relax. They are not coming for your jobs. Yes, fire fighter jobs are highly sought after, especially because historically there has been a lot of nepotism and people of color were kept out. In fact, only recently, a few of the men in uniform in the FD were caught cheating, passing tests/answers to their family members. A kid gets caught cheating on the math test, he may be expelled, but not these fine, and mostly portly, men in uniform. Gentlemen, thank you unions.

    Major Dong, you are a psychic. And, everything you just said applies to your fellow men in uniform. Only after they get caught raping inmates or little cadets, or looting the tax payers with their fake disability claims, or receiving or performing fellatio in the parking lot, or driving under the influence, and a whole host of other offenses do we wonder who the f^%& hired that officer. And, it looks like we are about to find out more about you guys have been doing in the past. Let’s us hope Major Dong’s file is one of the ones that will be released. I’m looking forward to it.

    Adam Henry, I agree with you about not giving criminals positions of trust. Let us hope Trump will be indicted. If he were a black kid, no doubt he’d be serving time right now.

  • Maj. Dong, didn’t you hear? Walmart is laying off greeters. That’s why I did not mention it. It may no longer be a career option for whining officers.

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