ALTADENA, Calif. (KABC) -- More than two dozen new Southland wildland firefighters graduated from a special program Saturday that's helping make the difference in more ways than one.
Among the graduates were formerly incarcerated firefighters. Twenty-seven men and women graduated from the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program in Altadena.
The non-profit helps those formerly incarcerated crew members become employed upon their release.
Some started their training while they were still in jail, but are ready for a second chance with careers in the fire service.
"It's an amazing adventure. Coming home with nothing to look forward to, and you don't know what's going to happen with your life, you don't know if you're going to end up going back," said Daton Harris, superintendent of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program. "For them to have this platform, and for them to be able to really extend their career, and really be able to be an asset to the public and to their community, is huge."
Daniel Tate is one of the recent graduates. He says he didn't have much going for him before this program. He says the program has helped him become a better man.
"A lot of these people, we all come from the same background, so to even see us get able to get another chance and be rehabilitated into the community again is a great feeling," Tate said. "Now I can walk around with my chest out and know I have purpose."
Tate and his colleagues have learned wildland firefighting skills including fire prevention strategies. This experience will help these graduates provide extra support during wildfires.
"What they develop is respect, honor, duty, integrity, everything that the fire service and first responders possess, they get those and yes, they can be a public servant," said Matthew Hudson, Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program. "They go and save communities, protect wildlife and people as well."
"We're trying to change the world," Harris said. "Give everybody an opportunity to be great."
For Tate, the program has provided that-putting him on a new path and a chance to give back to his community through his newfound skills.
"Everything has changed ever since I joined this program," Tate said. "I've become a better man."
Saturday's graduates are a part of the third cohort of the program.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on April 23, 2022.