GRFD Fire Cadet Program aims to recruit community members and increase diversity in its ranks

Firefighters — who doesn’t admire them? And who hasn’t aspired to be one at some point in their life? Well, anyone 18 years of age or older with a high school diploma or GED, driver’s license and no felony record was welcome to apply to the new Grand Rapids Fire Department (GRFD) Fire Cadet Program. As paid GRFD interns, the six applicants chosen as cadets will work 16 to 20 hours a week.

“We have gotten a number of applicants from Grand Rapids," says Assistant Chief Eric Freeman, GRFD. "Ultimately, the goal is to get a pipeline that establishes and connects Grand Rapids residents with our fire departments so that we can start hiring people that are right here from our own community. This will give us an opportunity to get a more diverse group of people that are reaching out to connect with us and maybe become future firefighters.”

During the comprehensive 12-month program, successful fire cadets will learn firefighter skills, practice search and rescue drills with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), acquire medical skills and become licensed as first-responder EMTs. They will also connect with the community at schools and events as well as perform administrative tasks.

“They'll be learning everything that we normally would do. They’ll be interacting with the community out there and doing physical fitness activities to get in even better shape,” Freeman says. “[Cadets] will be doing some of the mundane things that we do in the stations, maintenance and cleaning projects that we typically as firefighters would do. And they’ll be doing ride-alongs with the crews as observers. They'll have their vests on and observe from a safe distance.”

GRFD Summer Youth Academy

The program will also share career skills like how to write resumes and stand out in job interviews. At the end of the internship, the cadets can apply for full-time positions with the GRFD or build on their skills to find employment elsewhere.

“I was fortunate. My dad was in the fire department here in Grand Rapids. So, I knew about it. But these kids who don't have that knowledge, they don't have someone necessarily to connect them to the [GRFD],” Freeman concludes. “I like the fact that it gives these kids that opportunity to be connected here with their fire department and potentially figure out if this is something they want to do — and maybe even grow right into becoming firefighters here.”

The Fire Cadet Program adds one more opportunity for area youth to explore firefighting as a career. GRFD also offers a one-week, summer GRFD Youth Fire Academy that gives high school students the opportunity to explore a firefighting career. Students learn the basics of using SCBAs, firehoses and extinguishers, participate in physical fitness activities, practice search and rescue drills and learn hands-only CPR. GRFD’s Explorers volunteer program pairs youths and young adults aged 14-21 with GRFD mentors who share information about firefighting as a career, experience some of the training firefighters engage in and build positive relationships between participants and mentors. The GRFD also partners with the Grand Rapids Public Schools JROTC program participants who are considering firefighting as a career. While applications for the Fire Cadet program have closed for this year, Freeman anticipates that it will be offered again in 2023.

“We found that people in Grand Rapids are the least informed about what it takes to become firefighters [than] people in the suburbs,” Freeman says. “That’s why we are reaching out and getting our residents more involved in the fire service.”

Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Fire Department
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