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California Firefighter Fresh Start

Dario Gurrola thought he put his past behind him. During a misspent youth he struggled to make something of himself and committed several crimes. But as he left his 20s, Dario decided to turn his life around. Now 38, he lives in northern California, working as a firefighter during the summer months.

Dario loves firefighting, and he wants a stable, non-seasonal, long-term career in the field. But California won’t let him get the certification he needs to be a career firefighter, even though it faces a shortage of firefighters, even though it lets Dario fight fires seasonally and, most absurdly of all, even though it trained Dario to fight fires while he was in custody.

Fire departments throughout California require an EMT certification for career positions. An EMT certification is an entry-level qualification certifying that someone can perform basic, non-invasive first-response techniques, such as CPR, checking blood pressure and giving oxygen. People with only basic EMT certifications are not paramedics, cannot administer drugs and cannot drive ambulances. EMTs can be found in variety of places, from amusement parks to event spaces to factories.

But California categorically bans anyone with a felony conviction from obtaining an EMT certification for 10 years after release from prison, and it bans people with two felony convictions, like Dario, forever. That means Dario—whom California trained and paid to fight fires while in custody and who works as a seasonal firefighter now—can never become a career firefighter. This lifetime ban is irrational and unconstitutional.

The U.S. Constitution protects Americans’ right to earn an honest living in the profession of their choice. To ban people from working, the government must have a good reason. That Dario was convicted of felonies 15 years ago is not a good reason to ban him from a fulfilling profession forever. America is a land of second chances, and Dario deserves a fresh start.

That’s why Dario has teamed up with the Institute for Justice to file a federal lawsuit challenging California’s lifetime ban. Banning Dario from EMT certification doesn’t protect Californians; it just deprives them of a committed and qualified firefighter.

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