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Former California inmate firefighters create fire crew and training program

by Bill Gabbert, Wildfire Today |

Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey gained firefighting experience while incarcerated at a California facility for wildland fire crews. After being released they eventually obtained jobs fighting fires with government agencies but it took them two years. When they ran into their old inmate crew while assigned to a fire they were inspired to turn what they had learned into a training program designed for people with backgrounds similar to their own.

They founded the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP) and have helped hundreds of men and women get jobs. The organization provides help to those formerly incarcerated in California’s Conservation Camps, but accepts participants from all experiences and backgrounds.

“We navigated a maze and we want to help others, so they don’t go through what we did,” said Mr. Smith, now FFRP’s executive director. He cites the positive impact of a recent state law allowing inmate firefighters to become eligible for firefighting jobs by having their records expunged after completing their sentences.

FFRP also provides wildfire prevention and hazard mitigation services. Since 2017, they have grown to operate four trained crews in Southern California, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.