The F.I.R.E Act of 2022 Introduced to Increase Number of Credentialed Firefighters
February 10, 2022 – Sacramento, CA – What is at the intersection of saving California’s wildlife and habitats, reducing recidivism rates of formerly incarcerated individuals, and protecting our communities from the ravages of wildfire? AB 1908, the Formerly Incarcerated Recruits finding Employment (F.I.R.E) Act of 2022, and formerly incarcerated individuals who are trained as effective firefighters.
This past year was one of California’s most destructive wildfire seasons on record with 8,367 fires, three million acres burned, and 3,629 structures lost. The amount of wildlife lost is horrific and unquantifiable. Due to this ongoing increase in fires, the state is facing staffing shortages in the firefighting profession.
A recent Pew Charitable Trusts article highlighted the shortage, “Forest Service firefighters in the Golden State say all kinds of jobs are sitting open, from hand crew members to bulldozer operators, and that crews assigned to major fires are struggling to assemble teams.”
Every year 35% of the firefighting force in California (4,500 as firefighters and 3,500 as support staff) is composed of incarcerated men and women working in State Fire Camps. These individuals are nonviolent, minimal custody inmates who have to qualify for the camp. Yet, despite extensive training and experience, men and women who serve in California’s Fire Camps face nearly insurmountable barriers to obtaining full-time employment fighting wildland fires once they leave the system due to their incarcerated training and field experience time not being recognized for credentials by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This is not only a waste of firefighting talent that could be saving our homes, our wildlife and their habitat, but also leads to higher recidivism rates when those individuals find it difficult to find gainful employment.
That is why, yesterday, Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego) introduced AB 1908, the F.I.R.E. Act of 2022. The bill, cosponsored by Social Compassion in Legislation, the Michelson Center for Public Policy, and the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program, will ensure that individuals whom have successfully participated and completed training in the California Conservation Camp program as an incarcerated individual hand crewmember or successfully participated and completed training as a member of a county incarcerated individual hand crew are eligible for a firefighter certificate provided by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“Everyone who takes on the courageous work of fire service deserves recognition,” said Maienschein. “Incarcerated individuals rehabilitating back into society is difficult enough. Providing those who participated in the California Conservation Camp program with firefighter certificates will help guide them to the right path once they are released.”
“At a time when our state is facing unprecedented wildfires and fire staff shortages, incarcerated firefighters are putting themselves in harm’s way to provide an invaluable service to our society. To ignore the countless hours of training, field experience, and service on the perilous frontlines – and deny them a hard-earned pathway to certification and a meaningful career – is unduly harsh and discriminatory,” shared Dr. Gary Michelson, Founder of the Michelson Center for Public Policy. “Not only does this fly in the face of the notion that people can “pay their debt to society” and return to contribute to their communities, it is also incredibly shortsighted given California’s dire need for trained, experienced, and courageous professionals willing to risk their lives to protect us.”
“As California’s wildfire season grows ever longer and more intense year after year, devastating our communities and destroying millions of acres of habitat and our wildlife, our state’s heroic firefighters are stressed more and more – seemingly never getting a rest,” said Judie Mancuso, Founder and President of Social Compassion in Legislation. “That is why it is imperative we get the hundreds, if not thousands, of well-trained and experienced formerly incarcerated firefighters credentialed so they can begin to work in our communities on day one of their release. It’s a win for these individuals, for our communities, and for our wildlife and ecosystems.”
“This bill is a great steppingstone to allow formerly incarcerated people to transition professionally into the wildfire sector,” said Brandon Smith, Executive Director and Cofounder of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program. “It is only right that the credentials and experience received be recognized by fire agencies as they push for gainful employment.”
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Judie Mancuso, founder/CEO/president
Social Compassion in Legislation