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Arizona female inmate firefighters build character but often can’t use fire skills after release


Lynette Sandoval has kept the picture of her fire crew standing with Gov. Doug Ducey. Outside Perryville Prison, the women wear firefighting uniforms just as any public or private firefighters would, rather than prison garb. - Sinead Hickey/Special for Cronkite News


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In many states, including Arizona, incarcerated individuals who are serving time for less serious crimes have been trained to help with fire suppression across the state. Incarcerated firefighters go through the same training as members of any public or private fire crew, but once crew members leave prison, they often face difficulty getting hired as firefighters, typically because they lack documentation of their work or can’t get the required certification as emergency medical technicians because of their criminal records.


That was true in California, too, but in September, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill to expunge the records of formerly incarcerated firefighters, allowing them to receive an EMT certification, which most city fire departments require.


In Arizona, state legislators are looking at a change that wouldn’t go nearly as far but would help prison firefighters earn earlier releases. State Representative Walter Blackman (R) plans to introduce a bill again this year that includes an opportunity specifically for prison firefighters to earn one day off their sentence for every two days they spend fighting fires or training.


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