Twenty-six formerly incarcerated firefighters recently graduated from the Ventura Training Center (VTC).
(See the video or continue reading below.)
The VTC was established in October 2018 by CDCR, CAL FIRE, and the California Conservation Corps in partnership with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition to offer enhanced training to parolees who participated at fire camps or institutional firehouses.
Ronald von Scheele was chosen by his fellow cadets to speak for the graduating class. “I think we’ve learned to deal with high-stress situations. Learned to pay it forward, show leadership and always show up with a good attitude.”
To graduate, cadets live and work at the Ventura Training Center for 18 months. For the first six months, they complete re-entry planning, life skills training, educational programs, and advanced firefighter training.
Participants are then assigned for one year to a Type I Fire Crew, receiving more hands-on training and conducting community service projects when not responding to emergencies.
Those who complete the program are highly qualified to apply for entry-level firefighting jobs with local, state, and federal firefighting agencies.
VTC helps future firefighters find success
“More than half of you have already accepted positions with fire response agencies. You are cutting your own lines of success, and we look forward to hearing great things from you,” said CDCR Undersecretary of Operations Jeff Macomber.
Macomber and other guest speakers addressed the graduates offering congratulations and words of encouragement for their future as firefighters.
“We’re helping these guys to give them direction and find success. We don’t change their lives, they change their own lives,” said CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Jeremy Brant.
After receiving their diplomas, graduates mingled with supportive friends and family. “I’ve already accepted a job with the Santa Clara Unit. I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing something I love doing,” said Krishneel Prasad.
Job already lined up for one graduate
Graduate David Ponce said, “I’ve been offered a job with the Mendocino Unit which is in Northern California. Just taking it one day at a time. Hopefully (I’ll) get my uniform and move on to bigger and better things.”
Ponce served as an institutional firefighter at Avenal State Prison before his release. His former chief, Ricardo Collazo, proudly showed his support with other friends and family in the crowd.
“I just wrote a recommendation letter,” said Collazo. “This comes all from him. Kudos to the Ventura Training Center and what they did in getting him where he wanted to go. There’s so much more for him, now that he’s hired.”
In total, 17 graduates accepted positions with fire departments across California before graduation, providing a new group of highly-trained, crucial crew members ahead of fire season.
“In corrections we think rehabilitation shouldn’t just be while you’re behind the walls, Macomber added. “I think it’s also important that we give folks an opportunity after their release to be successful there as well. VTC is one of those programs that provides particular benefit, provides structure, and provides legitimate job opportunities for folks.”
Story by Tessa Outhyse, Public Information Officer
Video by Clarissa Resultan and David Novick, TV Specialists
Learn more about the CDCR/CAL FIRE camps and firefighters.