Ventura Training Center (VTC)

To offer formerly-incarcerated firefighters an opportunity to continue using the skills and knowledge they worked to achieve while participating in the Conservation Camp Program, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), California Conservation Corps (CCC) and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), in partnership with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), developed an enhanced firefighter training and certification program at the Ventura Training Center (VTC) in Ventura County.

VTC began training participants in October 2018 and accepts trainees who have recently been part of a trained firefighting workforce housed in fire camps or institutional firehouses operated by CAL FIRE and CDCR. Members of the CCC are also eligible to participate.

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. Cadets who complete the program will be qualified to apply for entry-level firefighting jobs with local, state, and federal firefighting agencies.

Program Structure

The VTC program runs for a total of 18 months and is divided into three phases of training:

  • Phase 1: Orientation and basic training for three months, including reentry planning, life skills training, job skills readiness, any required treatment and educational programs, basic forestry, and firefighting courses.
  • Phase 2: Three months of firefighter training, completing advanced, comprehensive industry firefighter courses and certifications not previously obtainable as a member of a conservation camp. Advanced life skills training, rehabilitative support services, education and reentry.
  • Phase 3: Participants receive a Type I Fire Crew assignment for 12 months, receiving in-service training as well as fuel reduction and community service project work when not responding to fires and other types of emergencies.

Employment opportunities are available through Type 1 Interagency Hand Crews used during fire suppression such as those supported by the United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and other government agencies, private contractors, and contract county crews.

Eligibility Criteria

All volunteer candidates are carefully screened and medically cleared on a case-by-case basis before they are accepted into the program. In order to be eligible for VTC, participants must have had minimum-custody status while incarcerated and were determined to be eligible after a review of their behavior in prison, medical and mental health issues, and time remaining to serve.

Participants must also be recommended by a CAL FIRE Division Chief at a conservation camp with CDCR Camp Commander concurrence or by an institutional fire chief; have no serious rules violations while serving at camp or on parole/probation; and have no conditions of parole or community supervision requirements that would restrict their participation in the program.

Additionally, all currently incarcerated firefighters who will be leaving custody soon must earn the right to be a recruited program candidate through sustained nonviolent behavior and conformance to rules while they are incarcerated.

Success Stories

As record-breaking wildfires swept through California in 2020, current and past Ventura Training Center (VTC) cadets did their part to keep communities safe. After 60 straight days responding to the River, LNU Lighting Complex, El Dorado, and Creek fires, two hardworking VTC crews received a hero’s welcome as they arrived back at the training center. Read the full story on Inside CDCR.

VTC graduate and CAL FIRE firefighter Michael Gebre doesn’t just save houses during fires – he helps out wildlife as well.

Additionally, formerly incarcerated firefighter Jose Morales discovered a newfound passion for helping others during his three years with the Firefighter Training Reentry Program (FTRP) at Pleasant Valley State Prison.

Jose Morales graduates the academy at the Firefighter Training and Reentry Program.

Following his hard work, education, and opportunity offered by FTRP, Morales landed a job with CAL FIRE’ Mendocino Unit Hand Crew in December 2019. He helped battle many of the record-breaking wildfires in 2020. Read the full story on Inside CDCR.

Staff Support

CDCR parole agents are on duty at VTC on a daily basis. Through a contract with CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs (DRP), the nonprofit ARC provides life skills training and resources, including education and employment assistance, and community service referrals. Counselors are available to the facility on a 24-hour basis.

ARC support services include employment skill assessments, money management, technology education, tutoring, career planning, developing resumes and cover letters, and searching and applying for employment.

Career Opportunities

In September 2020, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2147, which provides an expedited expungement pathway for formerly incarcerated people who have successfully participated as incarcerated firefighters in the state’s Conservation Camp Program.

Many former incarcerated firefighters from fire camps go on to gain employment with CAL FIRE, the United States Forest Service and interagency hotshot crews, which do not require EMT certifications. CAL FIRE does not require EMT certification to become employed as a firefighter with their department, nor do federal firefighting crews or private municipal fire departments.

Under AB 2147, a person that served as an incarcerated fire-fighting crew member is 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. Successful participation in an incarcerated hand crew would be determined by CDCR for those who were incarcerated in state prison. For those in county jails, the local county authority would make the determination.

For more information on AB 2147, see the webpage here.