The dream of incarcerated fire-fighting heroes to pursue careers as professional firefighters upon their release from prison became reality when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB2147 on September 11.
According to an article by Spectrum News, AB2147 gives nonviolent offenders who fought fires while incarcerated the chance to have their criminal records expunged so they can apply to be free firefighters.
Usually more than 2,000 prison fire crews assist and risk their lives fighting wildfires in California each year. They do it for very little pay, between $2.90 and $5.12 a day at the fire camp, with an extra dollar an hour while fighting fires.
Now that AB2147 has made it possible for incarcerated people to apply for firefighting jobs, they too can get paid the money they deserve for this dangerous work.
COVID-19 has sidelined many of California’s incarcerated firefighters and has sent some home due to early releases. The amount of incarcerated labor has been cut in half and to fight these fires aggressively will be harder without the help of these prison crews, Spectrum News reported.
During this fire season, “As of September 9, California’s atrocious year for wildfires just became the worst in the state’s history as far as the amount of land scorched,” the Center for Disaster Philanthropy said on CNN.
Incarcerated men have been fighting fires since World War II, Spectrum News reported. These incarcerated fire fighters go through rigorous training to become fire fighters, the same type of training that outside fire crews have. They learn PFT-Physical Fire Training and FFT-Fight Fire Training. They have to learn all the fire orders and all the rules of being a firefighter. They learn everything and do everything that professional firefighters do, but they have been denied EMT certification. Now the signing of AB2147 has opened a door for them to pursue their dreams, and they can put all their training to good use in the world.
NPR interviewed one firefighter who spoke of his feelings about fighting fires. Jason Dixon 37, protected a neighborhood in Sonoma County. He and a dozen incarcerated firefighters from Valley View Correctional Facility fought the Kincade Fire in California’s wine country last October.
“The best thing is the reaction of the people’s face,” Dixon said to NPR, “because you run into people on the fire [line] who live out there and they’re like very thankful. It makes you feel good inside.”
“I didn’t think I could do it after I got out, said Soledad Espinoza, who paroled in 2018. She is now at California Conservation Corps in Camarillo, reports The Marshall Project. The Center is a paid training program that helps people get their firefighting certification.
“I am the first person at my center on parole,” Espinoza told The Marshall Project. “And I [think] I’m the only