Fast Company: Washington’s ARC 20 Program Equips Inmates with Firefighting Skills

Create an image showing inmates from Washington's ARC 20 Program engaged in a firefighter training exercise. They should be wearing firefighting gear and working as a team to combat a controlled blaze


Fast Company: Washington’s ARC 20 Program Equips Inmates with Firefighting Skills

Rehabilitation efforts for incarcerated individuals have long included educational and vocational training programs aimed at providing skills that can assist with reintegration into society. One of the most impactful and unique of these initiatives is Washington State’s ARC 20 Program, which equips inmates with essential firefighting skills.

The Genesis of the ARC 20 Program

ARC 20, which stands for Availing Rehabilitation and Competence, was conceptualized as a progressive approach to rehabilitation. Recognizing the dual need to provide inmates with employable skills and address the state’s increasing need for qualified firefighters, the ARC 20 Program was launched with a dual focus on public service and personal development.

A Rigorous Training Regimen

The program’s training regimen is intense and comprehensive, mirroring the rigorous requirements faced by professional firefighters. Inmates undergo a physically demanding training process that includes courses on fire science, emergency medical techniques, and hazardous materials management.

Physical conditioning forms a substantial part of the program, with inmates participating in daily drills designed to build strength, stamina, and agility. Coupled with classroom instruction on firefighting strategies, safety protocols, and teamwork, the training is both exhaustive and transformative.

Functional Skills and Certification

Upon completing the program, inmates receive various certifications that make them eligible for entry-level positions in firefighting. These certifications cover critical areas such as:

  • Firefighter I and II Certification
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Certification
  • Wildland Firefighter Training
  • HazMat Operations

This suite of certifications ensures that inmates are not only well-prepared for immediate employment opportunities but also have a diverse skill set that can be built upon for long-term career growth.

Impact on Inmates and Communities

The ARC 20 Program has a profound impact on the inmates who participate in it. Many former inmates recount how the program instilled a renewed sense of purpose and self-worth. It provides them with a structured path to reenter society with the skills, discipline, and credentials needed to secure stable employment.

Moreover, the program benefits the broader community. With wildfire incidents on the rise due to climate change, additional skilled firefighters are always in demand. The inmates who participate in ARC 20 can contribute significantly to emergency response efforts, often in collaboration with professional fire departments during actual wildfires and other emergencies.

Breaking the Cycle of Recidivism

Perhaps one of the most statistically significant benefits of ARC 20 is its impact on recidivism rates. Programs like ARC 20 equip individuals with marketable skills and a professional network, significantly reducing the likelihood that they will return to criminal activities upon release. Inmates who graduate from the program have access to job placement services and mentorship, further aiding their reintegration process.

Challenges and Future Prospects

Implementing such a comprehensive program within the prison system comes with its own set of challenges. Security concerns, resource allocation, and the need for specialized instructors are some of the hurdles that the ARC 20 administrators regularly face. Despite these challenges, the program continues to expand, driven by its proven success and the continuous need for well-trained firefighters.

Looking ahead, there is considerable potential for similar programs to be adopted by other states, creating a nationwide network of rehabilitative vocational training opportunities. The success of ARC 20 demonstrates that rehabilitation and public service can go hand in hand, offering a model for effective correctional education that benefits individuals and society alike.


Washington’s ARC 20 Program stands as a beacon of innovative correctional education and vocational training. By providing inmates with the skills and certifications necessary to become firefighters, the program fulfills a critical public safety need while simultaneously empowering some of society’s most marginalized individuals. As the program continues to grow, it has the potential to serve as a blueprint for similar initiatives nationwide, forging a path toward a more rehabilitative and inclusive approach to criminal justice.

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