California passes bill to allow former inmates who served on fire crews to pursue a career in fire

AB2147 passes inmates fire crewsThe California legislature has passed a bill, AB 2147, that would allow former prisoners who worked on inmate fire crews to pursue a career in firefighting.

The  bill authored by Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes will allow nonviolent offenders who have logged time fighting fires on inmate crews while incarcerated, an opportunity to have their records expunged upon release, allowing them to become firefighters.

Released inmates who have successfully petitioned a judge to expunge their records and waive parole time, will also have the ability to apply for an emergency medical technician’s license.

Previously, California law has instructed emergency service agencies to deny EMT certification to anyone who has been convicted of two or more felonies, is on parole or probation, or has committed any kind of felony within the last decade.

COVID spreading through inmate crew camps and prisons this summer has cut the number of inmate crews available from 192 to 94. On July 9 California Governor Gavin Newsom said 12 inmate camps had to be quarantined due to the virus.

Compounding the firefighter shortage was the early release of thousands of state inmates to create more space in the facilities during the pandemic, and before that, the state’s initiative to reduce the incarceration of those jailed for lower-level offenses.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire. Google+

39 thoughts on “California passes bill to allow former inmates who served on fire crews to pursue a career in fire”

  1. As for AB 2147 in CA State, “non violent offenders” and “two FELONY convictions” are two very different types of inmates, and I’ve worked with the.. m in years past on fires as their Liaison Officer with the US Forest Service.
    Non-violent offenders is likely what most of us who have been in the business of firefighting would go along with, but NOT two-time felony offenders. That’s a different can of worms. These folks are carrying axes, Pulaski’s, and chain saws and have already proven they don’t follow the rules.
    Looks like a good idea saddled with a bad idea!

    1. I was just reading your opinion about inmate firefighters. I am not a firefighter but I know you all risk your lives on the line trying to help others. I agree that two time felony offenders should not be on the line.

      The job has enough stress and frustrations going on as normal, but for these people it might be just the point that might break them and get violent. Sure wouldn’t feel safe with one working next to me if I was a firefighter.

        1. I have two strikes. Served two prison terms and fought fires wile in prison. I’ve been out since 2011 and rebuilt my life a proud union heavy equipment operator. I would take the pay cut to be able to fight fires again. But it is possible to find change.

          1. Good for you, Mike. That’s great news. I congratulate you on how far you’ve come. I hope you make it out to fight fires again if that’s what sparks your spirit.

      1. Peter, you may want to re-direct your fears to the actions of the police force. If anyone’s hiring violent thugs these are your people. Violent offenders do not serve on fire teams. I’ve heard stories from inmates who have told me they’ve been mistreated by fire chiefs whilst fighting fires. If anything you’ll have far less to fear when guys have been given a second chance and earned gainful employment and as a consequence there’s less recidivism. This is one of the notions behind defunding the police. Take a portion of monies from an overfunded police force and channel it back into the community, offering employment and hope to the youth. Fear is so blinding.

      2. I am a two time felony offender . My name is
        Matthew Solano. In 2010 I was handed a state sentence of 6 years at 80 percent. I would get the chance to go to fire camp and landed in lower lake Ca. In October of 2010. I would go on to put in over 4000 hours on the fire line . I was lead sawyer for my crew . I also was part of the camp engine company . I taught new sawyers how to run the chainsaw on weekends . My fire captains loved me . I got my federal fire fighter 2 cert while I was there . I was released in September 2014. I was denied any job opportunity for fire fighting even though I had certifications and tree falling certified experience . Though the pursuit of my dream did not come to be , today I am a proud blue collar working service plumber . I have not been back to prison . I don’t care too much for the opinions of people who speak on things they can’t relate to . Fire fighting is the hardest thing to do aside from going to war . Felon or not the individual deserves respect . Not everyone who’s made one or two mistakes is unworthy . I have a child and a career and a great work ethic thanks to fire camp .

        1. hello my name is jeannie and my grandson is incarcerated in california and is running the chain saw leading his crew and would love to continue as you have. can you give me any leads and direction as to what he needs to do to make this happen. Seth is a wonderful person and we need help guiding him to become the firefighter he has dreamed about all his life.
          he is being released in november 2020 and he says he wants to run fast to accomplish this.
          please help us help him
          thank you

          1. I was a bucker crew 2 for camp Holton la county fire department inmate crew best crew in the state! Now im a journeyman union Millwright!

        2. The governor just approved a law to allow those who have done time and hrs on a inmate crew can now have their stuff expunged pretty sure you heard, maybe get back ..they need you with the fires in California.

        3. Thank you Matthew for sharing your experience! What you’ve done for us, while incarcerated, to risk your life in a fire crew will not be forgotten.

        4. Wow, such a great and inspiring story! I hope you can do what you love thanks to this bill. You deserve a lot of credit, and as a Californian, I thank you very much for your service.

      3. You worked as “their” Liaison Officer with the US Forest Service. Just cut it out, you should just say, you saw them from a far. All inmates are always separated from the civilian crews. You’ve never worked with them ,so I doubt you even know what you are talking about. Sounds to me like your hating. I’ve worked In fire camp as a “non violent offender” and in fire house where you live with the fire men . I was a two time felon. And the gentle men I worked with have a different view then you do . I would elaborate more however I’m done with you . Now onto the trampoline with my little
        one . I better put away my axe first.

    2. Having worked in the criminal justice system for a long time, I can say the comments on this thread are at the very least, irritating. You have stereotyped, judged and convicted people you know nothing about. Some people have made poor choices, but that does not make them bad people. Many did not have the functional upbringing that so many of you have had. Nor, did they have the opportunities you’ve been given. These people are some of the most real people I’ve ever met. Check your privilege.

    3. I’m a first timer that did time in prison and fire camp for arm robberies with a gun. Under people’s eyes im a very dangerous guy. I was the youngest guy in that hand crew I was only 20, I moved up the ladder and became squad leader. The experiences I experience while fighting fires, was incredible and deadly. We been in situations where we had to escape fires chasing us. I’ve carried a guy suffering from heat exhaustion. I had a gas tank explode behind me and had to hike up a mountain to escape it while my crew above me was shouting to keep going and not give up. I Hiked with my crew out of a mountain and having no water and everyone’s body is cramping up. I would hike behind everyone, help any stragglers and keep pushing them to not give up and to keep going. I had civilians come to our staging area hugging us and crying thanking us for saving their houses in Malibu. I remember this older lady saying I don’t care what you did in your past what you’re doing now its whats important. What I took from my experience in fire camp was that job was one of the hardest job I have ever had in my life, even now after 14 years i still think thats a difficult job, is all Mental fighting fires. It thought me to work hard and have good work ethics. I left camp with $2,400 in my account and a new view in life. Crazy how I’m laying down in this $400 a night room and typing this. I’m a Aerospace machinist.

    4. You sir have no idea what you are speaking on and it does not surprise me that you are a former liason. First off, you were with the dept. of forestry. Not cal fire, so you did not have direct interaction with any inmate crews. You might have had a brief encounter or two on the fireline as you and your crew were headed away from the fire as an inmate crew was heading in to fill your vacancy. Secondly, what do you even know about the law as it pertains to felonies? Nothing. I have done 5 terms in prison, discharged 3 cdc numbers, been to 2 firecamps, served 4 yrs on the line, was on my saw team for 3 yrs, pumper truck for 1 yr ( while also in charge of cdc warehouse and servicing all of tehemma glenn counties fire extinguishers), i was exposed and hospitalized for asbestos , burned by zarlon 4 from fed crew, and had a spear of bamboo pierce my hand thru and thru. I not only fought fire up and down the state but was also part of flood relief in winter. I was paid $1.56 a day and $1.00 an hour while on a fire — of which, 22% was taken for restitution. We were often on multiple fires in one day. We slept on the ground outside while you and your crew had hotel rooms and beds. We were lucky to get 2 showers a week from mobile trailers. Now , i have 2 strikes. However, i have never came in contact with a person in the commission of any of my offenses. Yet im labeled a violent offender. Odd isnt it? And for the record, i never once witnessed or heard of any inmate attacking or threatening anyone with tools or anything while on a fire. You sir are ill informed and part of the problem. You are coming off like an authority but in actuality , you are not. Its bad enough that inmate crews are hidden and dont get the credit they deserve, but when you take the time to smut us up after the fact, well you should be ashammed of yourself. If it wasnt for us you might have actually had to do work. You’re welcome.

  2. So, responding to grandma’s medical aid, in her home at 3:00 am with felon taking her blood pressure and transporting her to the ER is not a good idea.

  3. About time. These guys are fully trained and capable of doing the work. Gives California what we need and gives them n incentive to fly right.

  4. Any convicted felon can still get a job as a wildland firefighter after being released from prison. This does not require an EMT certification. I agree that they should be allowed to get EMT certification but this l that still doesn’t mean they’ll get a job when compared to the rest of the highly qualified non-criminal application pool.

  5. Maybe one non-violent felony, but two? I would recommend going a little slower. The proof will depend on the execution. Do you remember the release of so called violent felons?

    I would also hope that it will require a favorable recommendation from a former inmate crew captain and some level of supervision above that.Dav

  6. This is just what we need. Everyone deserves a chance to re enter society with a clean slate. And with a good career in front of them, these people are less likely to go back to jail. It’ll also give our hardworking fire fighters more of a break with extra hands on deck! Thank you for finally passing this bill!

  7. The passing of this bill is a terrible decision by legislators. Firefighter standards and expectations are clearly established. Reducing those standards or expectations of our firefighters is not what our profession needs or should tolerate. I chose to live with those expectations in my life and career.
    Every one of us who became a firefighter had to grow up, never give up on our dream, stay out of trouble. Making a living as a firefighter is not a birthright; it is a privilege. The process of becoming a firefighter is not broken, nor do we need the process to be fixed.

    1. You’ve never made a bad choice in life ? Some of us have. We didn’t grow up with the privileges others take for granted. We worked hard to go on to make something of ourselves . Usually as a consequence of someone placing faith in us. You may want to check your privilege.

  8. So much fear in a lot of these comments. If anyone’s hiring violent thugs, look to the actions of the police force. Violent offenders do not serve on fire teams. I’ve heard stories from inmates who have told me they’ve been mistreated by fire chiefs whilst fighting fires. If anything you’ll have far less to fear when guys have been given a second chance and have earned gainful employment : consequently there’s less recidivism. This is one of the notions behind defunding the police. Take a portion of monies from an overfunded police force and channel it back into the community, offering employment and hope to the youth. Fear is so blinding. Hope and promise is liberating.

  9. First of all, as of 2008 the majority of formerly incarcerated people in the US are constructing our buildings, cooking our food in restaurants / commercial kitchens, or performing maintenance work. All of those professions involve safety and responsibility toward the general public. Second of all, as others have stated on this thread a felony charge ≠ violent. It is relatively easy to be charged with a felony re: ‘the war on drugs’… even most mail fraud charges are considered felonies (for example, 3 officers *violently and falsely* arrested my neighborhood mail carrier forcing him to abandon his mail truck… *which is a felony*, all on video). Third, even if it was ruled a violent charge, that does not automatically mean they are violent individuals before or after incarceration.

    Formerly incarcerated people deserve secure, affordable housing. They deserve a consistent career path with safe conditions and fair wages; including being an EMT or firefighter. They deserve so much more rehabilitation and support than what they are currently receiving from US society/systems.

  10. As Liaison, I worked ON THE LINE with inmate crews. I know what they are capable of as fire fighters. I saw men swinging “brush hooks” (if you know what those are) with one arm. These were tough, muscled, work day and night kind of men and I’d love to have them fighting fires. BUT, at each end of the line was a guard with a shotgun. What does that say to you “fire?” I’m not an arm-chair quarterback. My knowledge of them is first hand. I was “first saw” on a crew, then Sector Boss, then Line Boss and then Deputy Incident Commander. All I’m trying to say about this issue, is that we need to “tread slowly” and not jump into this whole hog. As you well know, there are felons and then there are felons; each very different from the other. That’s my point. We need to be careful with this. I’m all for second chances when a person finally turns themselves around for the good.

    1. You sir are a liar. There was and never will be a shotgun at each end. That is an out and out lie. In fact the cdc officers are not even on the fireline. They remain at base camp. And they are not armed. Just like the camps themselves do not have fences. Guys are there because they want to be. It is not forced labor at the barrell of a gun. You are a liar.

      1. I agree… I fought fires for two seasons… I barely saw a CDC officer when we were at the fires… In fact, only saw them on the first day and the last day of most outings…

  11. I m out since 2003 and fought forests fire while I was in California state prison. But I loved it. Now I m so excited I can be fire fighters again and help peoples. I driving truck and running trucking companies and staying out of trouble . Where I can apply for my record expunged?

  12. I understand the hesitation from individuals when they hear about AB 2147… especially if they have had the good fortune to not have a family or friend do time…
    I grew up in a good home and had everything i needed in life… but being “young and dumb”… I got a 3 year sentence for selling drugs… it was in the 90’s so “the war on drugs” was raging… mandatory minimums were the norm… I went to prison… i was 21…
    … being a first-timer on a non-violent offence, I was able to sign up for Fire Camp… I worked two fire seasons and made some money and learned ALOT… I got out on September 5th, 2002. never looked back… I went back to school and got a job… I worked full time while I went to school and by 2010 (I had been working in customer service management for several years) had my MBA… I never looked back… except for every time I filled out an application and got that dreaded question… I made some bad decisions over 25 years ago and am still handicapped with the baggage… I have written to previous governors asking for a partial pardon but with no answer…
    …I would like a second chance.

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