Royal Ramey

Picture of Giraffe Royal Ramey

Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey were experienced firefighters and yet were turned down when they applied for firefighting jobs in California, where firefighters are desperately needed.

The problem? They’ve been in prison. They learned to fight fires while incarcerated in a State “fire camp.” (Note that the State pays prisoners from $2 to $5 a day to do this dangerous job. The average salary for a professional firefighter in California is over $51,000.)

When their applications were rejected, Smith and Ramey enrolled in a “fire academy,” passed exams to be licensed as EMTs, and finally got hired as pros. It took them two years.

As paid professionals working fires alongside prisoners in fire camps, they were fielding questions about how they got the jobs. Remembering how hard it had been, they created the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program to help others do the upgrade they’d achieved.

FFRP has since trained and supported over 3,000 currently and formerly imprisoned men and women. Trainees are coached on dealing with parole restrictions, lack of transportation, and precarious finances. They're prepped for the exams and job interviews and, while they’re in the FFRP program, many of these men and women are employed by FFRP itself, felling trees, clearing lots, maintaining highways, and removing snow. Last year FFRP even created its own firefighting crew.

Brandon Smith and Royal Ramey say that they’re atoning for their own past crimes by making the world a better place. Over 3,000 trainees are sure they’re right about that.