California Firefighter Training Gives Fresh Chance to Former Inmates
By CN Staff
VENTURA, Calif.—Twenty-six men recently graduated from the Ventura Training Center (VTC), an 18-month program where formerly incarcerated fire crew members can continue their enhanced firefighter training. Seventeen graduates have already accepted positions with CAL FIRE and other municipal departments and will serve as wildland firefighters in California.
CDCR Undersecretary of Operations, Jeff Macomber, Executive Director of the California Conservation Corps (CCC) Bruce Saito, CAL FIRE Battalion Chiefs Jeremy Brant and Timothy Davis, and Nicholas Reiner representing Executive Director Sam Lewis of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition addressed the graduating class.
“Graduations like this one are monumental considering the VTC program is still in its first few years of operation. We look forward to the many lives—and generations—changed precisely because of this innovative program,” said Macomber.
While incarcerated, graduate Henry Herrera served three fire seasons at Francisquito Camp #14, which inspired his passion for the fire service profession. He now starts his position as a wildland firefighter with CAL FIRE’s Lassen-Modoc Unit. He aspires to be a crew captain and will pursue his EMT certification and record expungement after graduation. His wife and his youngest son were in attendance with balloons and flowers.
When asked about advice for current participants in the program, another graduate, John Reyna, said, “Stay focused, stay engaged. Be mindful, and be flexible. Things change, and you have to learn to adapt.”
Reyna spent seven-and-a-half years away from his family during his incarceration, and made the difficult decision to leave them again for another year and a half to complete training at VTC. He has been ranked with CAL FIRE and is pursuing a wildland firefighter position after graduation. Reyna says he wants to pursue a career in the Incident Command System in logistics or finance, setting a positive example for his children.
Hayden Wiener graduated from VTC in January of this year—and is now a firefighter in CAL FIRE’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, working hard toward a goal of becoming a captain on a fire engine in San Diego. He says he’s motivated by how far he has come since his first day in prison and the fact his parents and his partner can say positive things about him now that he’s contributing so much to his community.
The VTC was established in October 2018 to offer enhanced training to formerly incarcerated people who have recently been part of a trained firefighting workforce at fire camps or institutional firehouses operated by CDCR and CAL FIRE. Participants in the certification program are provided with additional rehabilitation and job training skills to help them be more successful after completion of the program. Those who complete the program are qualified to apply for entry-level firefighting jobs with local, state, and federal firefighting agencies.
AB2147 was signed by Governor Newsom in September 2020 and provides an expedited expungement pathway for formerly incarcerated people who have successfully participated as incarcerated fire crew members in the state’s Conservation Camp Program. Under the law, a person that served as an incarcerated firefighting crew member will be eligible to apply for an expungement upon release from custody, and if the expungement is approved, they then would be able to seek various career pathways including those that require a state license.