SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - They're often near the front lines while clearing a path and working side by side California's firefighters.
"It's a big opportunity," said an inmate firefighter.
But after serving a prison sentence, inmate's careers are over.
"When they leave that service they're told that they will never ever be allowed to be a firefighter," said Assemblymember Eloise Reyes.
She is trying to change that, allowing felons to become professional firefighters later in life.
"We know people make mistakes and then they turn their lives around," said Reyes. "They might not get the job, but at least they won't be precluded."
Currently, felons cannot become an EMT firefighter.
"They must be held to the highest standards," said Carroll Wills with the California Professional Firefighters.
He said he is fundamentally opposed to the change.
"These individuals that are inmate hand crews are not firefighters. They're not doing line fire responsibilities," he said. "They're not doing any emergency mitigation, they're certainly not responding to medical calls."
Approximately 3,700 inmates work at fire camps as part of the Conservation Camp Program, with 2,600 of those being fire-line qualified. Reyes says after they're time served, some may deserve a second chance.
"It shouldn't be a life sentence," Reyes said.
But Wills says rather it would be negligent on behalf of the public's safety.
"Good for them that they can work to repay their debt to society in this fashion, but that's not the same thing as a firefighter," he said. "Firefighters are sworn officers. They take an oath and can and should be held to the highest possible standard."
A similar bill was introduced last year and it failed to get enough support.
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