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California Wildfires
Thank you to the heroes fighting on the frontlines.

Kevin Steele by Kevin Steele on Sept. 7, 2020

Wildfires can be devastating in California. This year has brought an unprecedented number of blazes across the state. For decades prison inmates on good behavior have been allowed to receive firefighter training and join fire camps where they act as hand crews, often the first team on the scene of a fire. In fact during wildfire season nearly a quarter of California's frontline firefighters are state prisoners. Each crew of 17 trained prisoners is led by a Cal Fire captain.

But there’s a shortage. COVID 19 spreading through the inmate fire camps and prisons this summer has cut the available number of inmate crews from 192 to 94. A dozen of the camps had to be quarantined due to the virus while thousands of inmates were released early as prisons needed to create more space during the pandemic.

The shortage has called to attention not only how much California relies on the prison crews to fight fires but also how hard it is for them to become professional firefighters once they’re free.

This past week the California legislature passed a bill that would allow former prisoners who worked on inmate fire crews to pursue a career in firefighting. Nonviolent offenders who’ve served on the fire crews can have their records expunged upon release and can pursue an emergency medical technician (EMT) license allowing them to become firefighters.

As one prisoner firefighter said: “When you look in the mirror when you’re incarcerated, you see the words written on your shirt that say ‘prisoner’…it generates a sense of worthlessness…but when you’re a prisoner firefighter there’s a sense of redemption. You’re getting thanked. Somebody’s calling you a hero.”

Thank you to the heroes fighting on the frontlines of this record wildfire season.

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More About Kevin Steele

Kevin SteeleIt's all about feeling: Creating an emotional connection in images that range from quiet and still to explosively dynamic. Kevin love's shooting people with a zest for life – working fast and light or crewing up as needed for both stills and motion production with a great team. Every assignment is an opportunity to create something extraordinary....and have a lot of fun. Authentic, emotional, time-slowing, cinematic imagery is how Kevin sees the world for recent clients ranging from American Express, Four Seasons, Delta Airlines, and Norwegian Cruise Lines to travel/tourism and healthcare campaigns.

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