CDCR Firefighters on Road with Fires Looming
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Time to Give Thanks to the Forgotten Heroes of the California Wildfires

The Camp Fire is officially contained thanks to the brave men and women who fought back the flames of the California wildfires. Let’s tip our hats for the forgotten heroes no one wants to talk about: The CDCR prison firefighters

The infamous California wildfire now known as The Camp Fire destroyed 14,000 residences in the Northern Cali area. At least 85 people have lost their lives to the flames, which left a burned area the size of the City of Chicago, authorities said Sunday.

California’s Wildfire Fighters: The Lions, Tigers & Prisoners

After 17 Days, the Cali Wildfires are Contained

According to the forestry and fire protection agency for the state, Cal Fire, it took 17 days to completely contain the Camp Fire. Reports say the hardest hit is Butte County. Sitting just north of the State Capitol of Sacramento, Butte County has lost 153,000 acres to the blazes.

Although the wildfires in California are fully contained, the death toll is expected to rise. There are still 296 people missing in relation to the fires in Butte County. Recovery efforts continue as rescue crews search through the ruins looking for human remains.

Thousands of people are displaced, living in hotels, shelters and camping outside in the cold. The Camp Fire has definitely been the deadliest wildfire in California history.

California was lucky enough to get three straight days of rain. This helped the professional, private and prison firefighters get a grip on the blazes. However, this just created new problems that threaten the people in the paths of the fires.

A warning from the Butte County Sheriff’s Office:

Areas experiencing significant rainfall following a wildfire are at risk for debris flows and flash flooding.

The Forgotten Heroes of the California Wildfires

Now that the 2018 wildfires in California have been contained, many thanks are due across the state. Not only did the state’s professional firefighters put in hard work, but hundreds of firefighters from other states join in on the fight.

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There are also the private firefighters. It seems they’ve become the new 2018 fad for the rich and famous with homes in the paths of California wildfires. They are contracted by private citizens to keep their homes safe.

Last week, we reported:

According to TMZ, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian-West hired a crew of private firefighters to save their $60 million California home during the current blazes.

Our Forgotten Heroes: CDCR Prison Firefighters

Then, there are the forgotten heroes of the 2018 California wildfires… the CDCR prison firefighters. For years now, this controversial occupation has kept prison loved ones and advocates riled up.

For one thing, California’s prison firefighters only make $2 per day. And, when they’re actively fighting fires, they make an extra $1 per hour for this dangerous work.

And, to top it off, the state makes it impossible for most to find work in the firefighting industry after their releases. Ex-prisoners are not outright forbidden to become firefighters within the state of Cali.

However, occupational licensing laws require that firefighters in California have EMT licenses. A person cannot get an EMT license in Cali if they have a felony record. Therefore, most never find industry-related jobs as prison.

Licensing Requirements Prevent CDCR Firefighters From Jobs

Prison Firefighters Suffer Injuries at Higher Rates Than Professionals

About 9,400 firefighters worked together to take down the 2018 California wildfires. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) Conservation Camp Program, about 1,500 are CDCR inmates, with about 250 of them being women prisoners.

These inmate firefighters are particularly at risk. In order to graduate fire camp, they must be physically fit. However, danger still exist for these imprisoned firefighters. The men and women of the Conservation Camp Program face disastrous, even deadly conditions for mere pennies per hour.

Between June 2013 and August 2018, over 1,000 prison firefighters had to be hospitalized due to on-the-job issues. Per capita, these inmates are four times as likely to suffer injuries while fighting wildfires than professional firefighters dealing with the same blazes, including:

  • Bruises
  • Cuts
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations
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And, according to a TIME report, incarcerated firefighters are over eight times as likely to suffer injuries after inhaling Atmospheric aerosol particles and smoke that professional firefighters.

Inmates were also more than eight times as likely to be injured after inhaling smoke and particulates compared with other firefighters.

So, why can’t they at least get paid minimum wage? Shouldn’t jobs be secured for them when they get out?

CDCR Firefighters: 3 Fatalities No One Talks About

There have also been fatalities among the inmate firefighters. Within the last three years alone, three incarcerated firefighters due to injuries sustained on-the-job.

Between February 2016 and July 2017, the following three deaths occurred:

  1. One inmate was crushed to death by a boulder
  2. Another CDCR prisoner was crushed to death under a 120-foot tall tree
  3. The third prisoner died after suffering a severe cut that clipped his femoral artery

California’s professional firefighters make an average pay of $73,860 per year, as well as benefits. They work the same 24-hour shifts as the prison firefighters, who make an additional $1 per hour while battling fires. Their regular pay is only $2 per day.

So, that means that although inmate firefighters are at greater risk for suffering injuries on-the-job, they are paid much less than the “professionals.” Some call it prison slave labor at its finest.

CDCR Firefighters on Road with Fires Looming
FILE – In this Aug. 25, 2013, file photo, inmate firefighters walk along Highway 120 after a burnout operation as firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif. Global warming is rapidly turning America into a stormy and dangerous place, with rising seas and disasters upending lives from flood-stricken Florida to the wildfire-ravaged West, according to a new U.S. federal scientific report released Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Climate change’s assorted harms “are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond,” the National Climate Assessment concluded. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Can a Felon Become a Professional Firefighter?

There are no federal laws the prohibit felons from becoming professional firefighters in this country. No such state laws exist either. It’s up to the individual jurisdictions to set their own standards and rules.

However, if you have a felony record, you can be disqualified from becoming a professional firefighter in most states, including California. This disqualification may be permanent or temporary.

Crimes, including felonies and misdemeanors, that are “acts of moral turpitude” can get you disqualified. These are some of the crimes that could stop felons from becoming firefighters:

  • Moral Turpitude – Crimes related to fraud, lying or stealing
  • Class A Misdemeanors (within past 5 years) – Bodily injury, etc…
  • Class B Misdemeanors (within past 5 years) – Drug possession, etc…
  • Class C Misdemeanors (within past 3 years) – Domestic violence, etc…
  • DUI (within past 10 years) – Driving under the influence
  • Felony Firefighter-Related – Burglary, murder, larceny, arson, etc…
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Finding & Landing Jobs After Prison

None of these crimes are automatic causes for banning felons from becoming firefighters. However, it does make the entire hiring process more complicated. Ban the Box is a movement that helps improve this process for people with felony records.

Another factor that’s judged by firefighting hiring managers is your credit history. Your credit reports are run to determine your commitment to keeping you bills paid on time. The number of open/closed accounts and the types of debts you have may also matter when judging your integrity.

Knowing how to write a unique, creative resume is the key to getting in the door. You need to woo employers with your resume just to land an interview. Then, you can disclose your record during the interview process in a way that makes the “new and released” you shine.

The Felon’s 2019 Guide to Finding a Job & Becoming an Entrepreneur

Need assistance creating the right type of resume for felons? We have the resources you need.

The Felon’s 2019 Guide to Finding a Job & Becoming an Entrepreneur covers everything from creating a resume to answering tough interview questions. We even offer tips to help you establish credit after your release from prison.

Download this eBook for the resources you need to land a job as a felon. It’s also available in paperback for people who want to send this guide to help felons find jobs to loved ones on the inside.

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Kiesha Joseph
Kiesha Joseph is the owner of Content Marketing Geek Corporation. Her company provides white hat, inbound marketing services for small businesses, entrepreneurs, real estate professionals, bloggers and authors. Ms. Joseph enjoys swimming, cooking, eating, dancing, and of course writing. Kiesha is currently the managing content editor for Prison Rideshare Network news for inmates' loved ones.