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Cal-JAC launches nation’s first fire service pre-apprenticeship program

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For California firefighters, apprenticeship is nothing new. 

Since 1982, the California Firefighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee (Cal-JAC) has pioneered the apprenticeship model in the state’s fire service, creating a system of standardized training that has helped develop a fire service that, today, is the envy of the nation. 

Since its inception, Cal-JAC has strived to develop a workforce that is not only equipped to face the ever-evolving demands of the profession, but also one that reflects the diversity seen across the Golden State. With that aim in mind, the Cal-JAC recently launched a groundbreaking, pre-apprenticeship program, designed to remove barriers to entry and provide a direct path toward the fire service for qualified candidates who also demonstrated economic need. 

“As the labor sponsor for the Cal-JAC, training and preparing individuals for a career in the fire service is what we’ve been involved with for years,” said CPF President Lou Paulson. “This is a great opportunity to try and help folks who haven’t had the opportunity to get into an academy or EMT class, to get an opportunity for a career in the fire service, and we’re very excited about the ability to provide that.” 

The program, dubbed the Cal-JAC Academy, allows candidates to complete the fire service’s entry-level physical and written testing requirements, while also earning their EMT certification. The program’s tuition, including all associated costs such as books, uniforms, travel and childcare costs, are being covered through a grant from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, meaning candidates can attend completely free of charge. Those who successfully complete the program will be granted a guaranteed job interview with the Sacramento City Fire Department, as well as placement on the Firefighter Candidate Testing Center’s Statewide Eligibility List, which nearly 100 departments use when it comes time to hire. 

“We didn’t set out to be first, but we’re fortunate to have that opportunity becase we have a great partner like California Professional Firefighters leading the way,” said former Sacramento Fire Chief Walt White. 

During the program’s two month application process, Cal-JAC’s outreach efforts netted a total of 228 applicants from a broad range of ethnic, gender and economic backgrounds. Of those applicants, a pool of 50 cadets was selected to make up the Cal-JAC Academy’s inaugural class. Roughly 20 percent of those candidates are female, compared current workforce numbers, which hover somewhere around five percent. The cadet pool is also ethnically diverse, with 24 percent of cadets identifying as Hispanic, and another 22 percent identifying as African-American. Currently, African-American and Hispanic firefighters make up roughly 10 percent of the workforce. 

The Cal-JAC Academy’s inaugural class is a product of an extensive outreach and recruitment campaign, one which sought to interact with potential applicants through a wide variety of methods and media. Early on in the recruitment process, Cal-JAC staff organized a press event with office of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and conducted extensive media outreach throughout the Sacramento region, and on digital platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Cal-JAC Academy partners, including the Sacramento Fire Department, Sacramento Area Firefighters, Local 522 and the Butte County Office of Education were also instrumental in the recruitment efforts. 

“This was truly a team effort,” said Yvonne de la Peña, executive director of the Cal-JAC. “Without our partner organizations, the success of this program would not have been possible.”