CCC Seeks Trainees, Earn While Learning
By Dianne Anderson
Always true to their tagline “hard work, low pay and miserable conditions,” the California Conservation Corps is home to a lot of happy people working for meager sustenance, even if they have to drag 40 pound packs up the side of the mountain toward the raging fire.
Until her next leg of the journey, Miracle Darnel counts her $1905 a month as some of the best low pay she could ever earn.
No doubt, Darnel, 24, had major doubts about the physical demands of becoming a wildland firefighter when she first started with her crew. Just the thought of speed carrying heavy packs in 45 minutes on three-mile hikes was daunting.
“You can’t run, it’s a fast walk,” she said. “Just knowing that if I was to pass this test that I would be on mountaintops climbing hills and going on inclines every day for weeks at a time was, to say the least, intimidating.”
Growing up, she always admired firefighters from afar, and thought how amazing they were, but she never envisioned it for herself.
“I always thought I have to go to college, I don’t have experience, I’m out of shape. That would be something of a dream,” she said.
Before her dream became a reality, Darnel grew up in San Bernardino, drifted from one low-skilled low wage job to the next until she reached a low point in a women’s homeless shelter. She heard of California Conservation Corps and it changed her life.
Dedication paid off, but reality hit with what it takes to be a real firefighter on one of her first encounters with the flames jutting out directly in front of them.
“We were told, ‘Hey go cut down that tree and put in a handline right here to prevent the fire from spreading any further,” she laughs. “I was nervous. I was like you want me to do what?”
Being a woman, a Black woman, in a white male-dominated field hasn’t deterred her. Every day, she reminds herself that she deserves to be out in the wildlands as much as the next person.
“They give me respect, they treat me equally. I go as hard as I can because I have to be open to taking that risk,” she said. “There are mainly white guys here, but if I don’t take that step how can I tell the youth to take that step. I have to be that example.”
Potential money aside – the average salary for firefighters pushes $80,000 a year – she feels a greater reward is knowing that she and her crew have a hand in saving the community from fires, not only the structures, but saving lives.
For anyone seeking a career in the field, her advice is to stick with it.
“Continue to work hard, continue to study even harder even though the odds are against you. Continue to go that much harder because in the end it does pay off,” she said.
Dana Howard with the CCC said wildland firefighting is just one of many certification programs, and their graduates are making everyone proud.
At any given time, 1,529 slots are open for students to enter the year-round open enrollment. Throughout the year, 3,000 to 3500 join to access a variety of fields.
The program accepts age 18 to 25 years, and veterans to age 29. Sign up is easy at www.ccc.ca.gov where candidates fill out a basic online application, and they will be contacted by a recruiter.
“They get their background check done, and yes we do take people with criminal backgrounds, there’s a good chance that they will still be able to enroll in the CCC,” said Dana Howard, director of Communications, Outreach, Recruitment, Enrollment at California Conservation Corps.
Many students face serious challenges. About 20% of participants have college degrees, while 15% are trying to finish their high school diploma, and everything in between.
“Often they don’t think of themselves as homeless. They’re going from house to house and couch to couch,” he said.
Students can get support if they are finishing their coursework for their high school diploma, which is required. He said the Corps provides a safe learning environment, training, stipend and everything a student needs to get their life together.
Still, although resources are available, Howard said there is a vast disconnect of access to information in Black and Brown communities.
He wants the community to know there are exciting choices not only at their residential program in Pomona, but many students travel to different locations statewide for training.
“Some young people have doubts about going away [from home], or that it sounds like it’s too good to be true, or think that I can just go in and do something different than this very menial work that I’m currently doing.”
Vic Morrow Jr. from Long Beach knew it was time for him to do something different.
Like many of his peers, Morrow was dealing with tough times. A close friend had completed the CCC residential program and kept pushing him to check it out. He was glad he did.
Today, he is away at Stockton cooking up fine cuisine, like deep-fried asparagus and chicken Marsala, earning while he learns. Eventually, he plans to be an international chef and open his own restaurant.
Morrow just finished his ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification, which now opens the door for work at hospitals, schools and other large institutions.
The program wasn’t difficult, he said. He’s trained for eight months, and plans to ask for an extension so he can continue living, learning and earning more in residence at the center. When he first entered CCC, he said there was a big gap from high school, and he knew he needed a change.
“My mom had passed, and I didn’t have anybody to support me. I was going through life living with my cousin, blowing through my money. I decided to take my friend’s advice – that it’s time to settle down and figure out how to establish myself,” he said.
To learn more about resident and on the job training programs, see