Firefighters, Rehabilitation

Two formerly incarcerated firefighters receive leadership award and grant

Firefighters train at academy.
FFRP participants.

Accompanying grant will help expand training in Northern California

Two formerly incarcerated firefighters who co-founded the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP) recently received a James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award and a $250,000 grant that will be used to expand the services provided by their non-profit organization to other parts of the state.

Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey co-founded FFRP to offer year-round on-the-job training, re-entry support, and professional networking for anyone wishing to join the fire service profession and provides another avenue for participants in California’s Conservation Camp Program to gain meaningful employment after release.

In five months, students at FFRP receive the same training they would get in a CAL FIRE Seasonal Firefighter Academy. The Los Angeles-based program has helped more than 140 fire camp participants transition back into professional fire service after release. Ramey and Smith say having the right attitude is the key to success.

“They have to really know what they’re getting themselves into, be adaptable,” Ramey said.

Leadership award, grant for firefighters help expand program

“What FFRP is showing is that there are many formerly incarcerated people who want to positively give back to their communities,” Smith added. “It’s not just the fact you’ve been in a fire camp that validates you for this program. It’s the fact you have made a commitment to transform your life moving forward. All of us are public stewards.”

Ramey and Smith said some of the biggest obstacles they encountered after their 2014 release were financial instability and finding jobs while waiting for employment windows to open. FFRP offers monthly stipends to participants in addition to required wildland fire training, job coaching, counseling, and direct networking with professionals in the workforce year-round. Program graduates who apply to state or federal fire crews arrive fully certified and ready for the fire lines.

“The most important thing for us is that we have that lived experience.” Ramey said. “You can look that person in the eye and say, ‘Listen, I’ve been there.’”

Ramey and Smith often travel to fire camps to discuss opportunities directly with camp participants, many of whom may be preparing for life after release in the near future. FFRP visited Intermountain Conservation Camp (#22) in February, and are planning to visit as many camps as possible this year.

On Feb. 11, FFRP received a James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award which recognizes and supports diverse leaders whose work improves people’s lives, creates opportunity, and contributes to a better California. The award included a $250,000 grant that FFRP will use to expand an East Bay campus in November 2022 to offer the same five-month program to people in Northern California.

Through a partnership with Berkeley Forests, FFRP will recruit and provide on-the-job training for up to 200 new members. Participants will work with Berkeley Forest staff to improve fire and land management strategies in forests across the state.

Ramey and Smith were selected with five other individuals and organizations from 419 nominees. The grant money is intended to help recipients advance innovative, effective solutions that merit expansion or replication and inform local and statewide policy to increase opportunities for the people of California.

“Each recipient of a James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award is an example for policymakers and other leaders of how we can solve the challenges that face us, no matter how daunting they may seem,” said Don Howard, President and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation. “We are proud to support and recognize leaders like Royal Ramey and Brandon Smith of The Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program who are meaningfully improving people’s lives and giving us hope for a more prosperous, equitable California.”

By Tessa Outhyse, Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications

Learn more about Intermountain Conservation Camp.