Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · June 13, 2022

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Formerly incarcerated firefighters challenging California’s ban on EMT certification for people with felony convictions will fight on after a decision issued last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Institute for Justice (IJ) will ask both the panel of judges and the full court for a rehearing to consider more carefully whether the state’s ban violates the right to earn an honest living.

“We think the decision was wrong on the law and wrong on the facts” said IJ Attorney Andrew Ward. “The government shouldn’t stop people from working because of irrelevant criminal convictions.”

California categorically bans anyone with two or more felonies from ever applying for an EMT certification. EMTs are not paramedics and the certification does not grant one the right to drive ambulances or enter homes. Instead, it is a basic certification proving that an individual can administer non-invasive lifesaving techniques such as CPR. More than 60,000 Californians are certified EMTs and they work in many different careers.

California created a law to let people apply to expunge their records if they served in the prison fire camps, A.B. 2147. However, the new law is limited and, as reported last year by the Los Angeles Times, the process is difficult to navigate. Most people with felony convictions still cannot apply for an EMT certification, regardless of rehabilitation.

For instance, wilderness firefighter Dario Gurrola is one of the plaintiffs challenging the law with IJ. Because of the timing of his two felony convictions, he is not eligible for the process established by A.B. 2147. This lifetime ban prevents Dario from applying for most municipal firefighting positions in California.

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