Division of Juvenile Justice, Firefighters, Rehabilitation

First young adult DJJ firefighters accepted to Ventura firefighter training program

Firefighters hike on a trail in Ventura County.
VTC Trainee cadets finish a morning training hike along fire prone canyons at Pt. Mugu State Park in Ventura County.

Advanced training helps enable them to pursue full-time firefighting positions

By DJJ staff

A pair of young adults from CDCR Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) are among the first firefighters from Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp accepted into a training and certification program for parolees and probationers with past firefighting experience at camps run jointly by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) and CDCR. The two youth, ages 20 and 22, joined the fourth cohort of 25 trainee cadets at the Ventura Training Center (VTC) in Camarillo.

The 18-month VTC program provides advanced firefighter training, certifications, and job readiness support to create a pathway for former offenders to compete for entry-level firefighting jobs with state, federal and local agencies. The innovative camp training program opened Oct. 22, 2018, with a class of 20 participants.

“The VTC is a perfect example of agencies coming together for the purpose of offering the formerly-incarcerated a way to apply the skills they acquired while serving their sentence into full-time careers upon their release,” CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said. “This is the kind of innovation that changes communities for the better.”

In January 2020, VTC expanded eligibility to include youth who served at the Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp in Amador County.

“Providing a direct road to employment is exactly what our youth need to succeed as they reenter society,” said DJJ Acting Director Heather Bowlds. “Helping youth to become thriving, engaged and contributing members of the public serves our larger goals of youth and community restoration.”

Youth firefighter poses in front of Ventura Training Center fire truck.
Kylan Lewis, 20, is a new trainee and one of two from the Division of Juvenile Justice to be accepted in the Ventura Training Center program. Lewis is finishing his high school education and taking community college courses toward his goal of becoming a full-time firefighter.

In addition to former offenders, space is available at VTC for California Conservation Corps (CCC) members from its Butte, Placer and Camarillo fire centers.

In just over a year since the VTC opened, five program participants have obtained employment as either seasonal firefighters with state and local fire agencies or full-time assignments as hazardous materials specialist, private ambulance/medical transport and forestry technician with an investor-owned utility company. Another two are awaiting final background checks for possible seasonal firefighter jobs.

The jointly-operated camp uses a multifaceted, multiagency approach to offer support services to the cadets while they gain valuable job skills. CDCR parole agents are on-duty at VTC daily. Through a contract with CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs, the nonprofit Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) provides life skills training and resources, including education and employment assistance and community service referrals. Counselors are available to participants on a 24-hour basis.

Cadets receive a monthly stipend, as well as room and board, and are eligible for extra pay when called to duty on active fires. Those approved to serve in conservation camps or institutional firehouses have been carefully screened by a committee to evaluate their current case factors. VTC will not accept participants who have been convicted of sex offenses or arson.

Two men stand in front of a board promoting the Ventura Training Center.
Parole Officers Matt Giorgi and Jimmy Reyes are responsible for up to 80 parolee firefighters at the Ventura Training Center, a multiagency effort which includes CDCR, CalFIRE, the California Conservation Corps and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.