Allow California's Prisoner Firefighters to Work Professionally After Release

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California is being devastated by massive wildfires, and thousands of state prisoners have volunteered to fight the flames. Paid as low as $1 per hour, the state employs prisoners with low-level, nonviolent crimes to risk their lives and serve alongside professional firefighters. But once people have served their time, they often can’t work as full-time firefighters because of their criminal records.

Most counties in California require firefighters to become licensed emergency medical technicians (EMTs) — and that credential is almost always denied to anyone with a felony record, even if they have frontline experience.

Thousands of California’s firefighters are state inmates, carefully selected to participate in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s CAL FIRE program. At least three inmates have died fighting fires since 2017.

A California firefighter who served in a fire camp while incarcerated is now suing the state for his right to work as a firefighter full-time. Dario Gurrola is a seasonal firefighter who has taken fire science classes and passed the national EMT exam, but he can never get his license because of convictions that are 15 years old.

It’s simply wrong to deny people like Dario the ability to become full-time firefighters after they have served their time and paid their debt to society. A steady job is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. Restoring the right to earn an honest living is crucial for ex-offenders to regain a sense of hope and a chance at redemption.

Recently, the California Legislature created a new process that would allow some people who served in the fire camps to apply to have their records cleared. But unfortunately, Dario and many other worthy individuals who want to serve their communities don’t qualify for that process.

Sign our petition urging California to make it easier for formerly incarcerated people to become firefighters and EMTs after serving their time.