Atlanta Fire Rescue Cadet Program: Our Path to the Future

Rather than hiring high school students and attempting to place them in various divisions and sections of the department, we took a different approach.


One of the many descriptions of Atlanta, GA, is "Resurgence City." Atlanta has often faced near-overwhelming odds, but without fail, its citizens have rebuilt from the ashes, as is so vividly portrayed by the city's symbol of the legendary "Phoenix." Atlanta continues to rise to the challenges put...


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It's then that we test each student's level of commitment, long before they put on our uniform. The structured schedule from this point consists of four hours in school (mornings) in which the recruits receive the required academic courses. After lunch, four hours in the afternoon are dedicated to on-the-job work experience. For one entire month, the cadets report to our training academy to learn the basic skills of the job. The emphasis of this 80-hour training course is safety, safety and more safety.

Each cadet is assigned to a fire station to ride along with our companies. However, the cadets never enter a hazard zone. Emergency-scene operations focus on assisting the fire apparatus operator or being directly supervised by the company officer. The core principle of this program is to prepare a high school senior to transition to becoming a career Atlanta firefighter.

How do we pay for this program? One of our key Fire Cadet Program partners is the Atlanta Workforce Development Authority (AWDA). Executive Director Deborah Lum has assisted us in securing federal funding to pay for student salaries. While learning job skills, each student is paid $280 biweekly. Atlanta Fire Rescue pays for each cadet to receive a set of rented turnout gear that meets all standards and codes. A few years ago, we conducted a cost analysis and determined that renting turnout gear for all trainees — cadets and adult recruits — works best for our department. Wear and tear on training equipment is extensive and expensive, so when a person becomes a "sworn-in" member (completing all entry and training requirements, which takes about six months), a new set of turnouts is waiting.

Next, we are very fortunate to have Workrite Uniform Company of Oxnard, CA, as a Fire Cadet Program partner. Workrite provides uniforms for the cadets at no cost to our city. "Workrite Uniform is honored to support preparing our heroes of tomorrow, through donating station wear to the Cadet Firefighter Program," said Glenn K. Sato of Workrite.

The last major cost involves the transportation needs of our cadets. Atlanta is fortunate to have a solid public transportation system, MARTA. Cadets are issued "MARTA Pass" cards that provides public transportation throughout the city for the length of the program.

A great bond has been forged among fire stations, schools and neighborhoods. One night, I responded to a second-alarm warehouse fire. As I walked to the command post, I noticed that a cadet was assisting Engine 7's fire apparatus operator. Since it was about 9 o'clock on a school night, I was thinking that the cadet should have been at home. When I saw the captain of Engine 7, I asked why the cadet was still at work. His response was interesting as well as gratifying. Because of his home situation, the cadet spends a lot of time at the station and in fact was "adopted" by the fire station members. It was at this point that I understood the power that the mayor's "Next Steps" program held. Our members (as always) were making a true commitment to better the communities in Atlanta.

Over the past few years, our department has closed the gap and filled vacant firefighter positions. Still, as one may imagine, openings within Atlanta Fire Rescue are cyclical, with about 30 to 50 retirements accruing per year, making recruitment a very important function. The Fire Cadet Program represents about 20 new potential employees each year. The program provides a great organizational opportunity to have a lot of quality (discretionary) time to conduct employee "compatibility testing" with each cadet (new potential full-time employees). I would even say that Atlanta Fire Rescue has developed one of the best "Next Steps" programs in the city government.

We believe this is a "best practice" to be shared among other fire-rescue agencies, so Firefighter Moss has agreed to share electronic copies of our department's "Cadet Guidelines" and other program resources by contacting her at MMoss@atlantaga.gov.


DENNIS L. RUBIN, a Firehouse contributing editor, is chief of Atlanta Fire Rescue. Previously, he was city manager and public safety director for the City of Dothan, AL. Rubin is a 35-year fire-rescue veteran, serving in many capacities and with several departments. He holds an associate's degree in fire science from Northern Virginia Community College and a bachelor's degree in fire science from the University of Maryland, and is enrolled in the Oklahoma State University Graduate School Fire Administration Program. Rubin is a 1993 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program and holds the national Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) certification and the Chief Fire Officer Designation (CFOD) from the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). He serves on several IAFC committees, including a two-year term as the Health and Safety Committee chair. Rubin can be reached at Firerube@aol.com.