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A new program designed to help former offenders pursue a career in firefighting made its first deployment over the weekend to help battle the Saddleridge Fire in the San Fernando Valley.

The Ventura Training Center Firefighter Training and Reentry Program began teaching its first class of participants in October 2018, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which developed the project with Calfire and the California Conservation Corps.

The 18-month program in Camarillo provides advanced training in firefighting to those previously housed in fire camps operated by Calfire and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The first cohort is expected to complete training in April 2020, but two participants have already left to accept full-time positions by Calfire, according to CDCR.

On Friday, many of the 16 parolees who passed the third phase of the program celebrated with their family and friends, CDCR Press Secretary Dana Simas said. At 6 a.m. the next day, they were deployed to help fight the Saddleridge Fire.

A total of 28 program participants responded to the front lines of the blaze, CDCR Secretary Ralph Diaz said in a statement to KTLA.

“These men are more than parolees, they are now true heroes of the community and we support their continued growth and rehabilitation,” Diaz said. “We hope this program continues to be a success for CDCR, for the trainees, and for the community at-large.”

There are about 2,600 inmates in California ready to respond to fires at any moment, CDCR said.

The Saddleridge Fire ignited in Sylmar on Thursday evening and spread to 12 square miles, leaving one dead and damaging or destroying at least 75 structures, including homes in the Porter Ranch and Granada Hills areas.

Three firefighters were hurt, including one who sustained a minor eye injury, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

Correction: A previous version of this story provided an incorrect number of participants in the program. This post has been updated.