Breaking through flames and barriers, the latest wave of Kansas City fire fighter recruits blazes a trail as the city’s most diverse.
“There are people from all walks of life, and I enjoyed every second of it,” said recruit Jacob Boling to a KSHB reporter.
The class brings diverse skills and perspectives to the fire service, reflecting a commitment to forming a team representative of the communities served.
“We started with 116 participants, and after comprehensive training, we graduated 112 cadets, with a handful still completing their credentialing requirements,” said Daniel Heizman, President of Kansas City, Mo. Local 42.
According to KSHB, this class is also the most diverse, with 40 percent comprising of minority races or women.
In May, city leaders announced the incoming recruits would bring relief to fire crews working additional shifts. They said despite a decline in overall applications, this is the largest class on record, requiring two separate training classes each day for the past six months.
This latest hiring initiative comes as fire departments across the U.S. and Canada grapple with lingering staffing concerns.
“Like many fire departments nationwide, we’ve faced challenges in recruiting and hiring new members, particularly amid the ongoing pandemic, which has slowed down the process,” said Heizman. “We’ve struggled to fill our ranks, placing a significant burden on us, especially post-pandemic. Our team faced daily challenges, contributing to a rise in mental health issues,” he said. “Additionally, the shortage of staff, coupled with mandatory overtime – a new norm in my 20-plus years of career – has compelled individuals to endure longer and more frequent shifts.”
As the recruits take on a new challenge, they’re emerging ready to illuminate the path ahead, taking advice from those who paved the way.
“At our recent graduation, I emphasized to the recruits the importance of continuous learning beyond the academy. I highlighted the wealth of experience and knowledge within our department’s history while also addressing the prevalent issue of mental health,” said Heizman. “I advised them to seek help early, emphasizing the strength in doing so. By addressing smaller issues before they escalate, they can ensure a smoother journey in their career, leading to a long and healthy retirement.”