Rookie Ohio Firefighters Step Up

She is one of three African-Americans hired from that test's eligibility list and one of two in this year's training class.

Chapman has worked in the training academy since 2000. After noticing a couple of classes go through without any minority students, she began a tutoring program for black applicants.

''We've had the numbers taking the test, we just didn't have the people scoring high enough on the written test to even get a shot at the physical agility test,'' Chapman said.

Curry and the other African-American hired in this year's class, Cameron Mack, were among her students.

''She inspired me. She helped me a lot,'' said Curry, who passed the test the first time she took it but didn't score high enough to advance.

Chapman helped Curry with the test, but also encouraged her to build her strength for the physical agility test, which historically has stopped a lot of female applicants.

''I was going to try until I couldn't try anymore. I wanted it too bad,'' Curry said.

Bonus points are added to the raw test scores for veterans, Akron residents and applicants who already have been trained as emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

''Looking at the numbers, the blacks scored pretty close to the whites, but they didn't have those bonus points,'' Chapman said.

In the last few years, Akron has offered eight scholarships to high school students who want to pursue paramedic training beyond the EMT training they can get at Buchtel High. They can also take classes at the University of Akron toward a fire science degree, which also adds points to the written test's raw score.

That encourages City Council President Marco Sommerville, but he thinks the city can do better.

''I don't want to get to the point where somebody will sue us again and cost us money in court,'' Sommerville said Thursday. ''It's a nationwide problem, but some communities have had more success.''

Milwaukee, for example, has a cadet program for would-be firefighters -- people 18 to 21 -- that places them in firehouses where they can learn the culture and what it takes to get hired.

Chapman wanted that kind of program, too, but thinks the paramedic scholarships the city is offering achieve a similar goal.

What she would really like to get started is a mentoring program pairing experienced black firefighters with the young men and women who could replace them if they had enough preparation and dedication.

Ultimately, it depends on how badly someone wants the job.

The other outstanding recruit in Curry's training group, Frank E. LaRock, showed the same hustle and leadership.

Both were acknowledged at a swearing-in ceremony April 29 for the 25 recruits, which include Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic's son-in-law, Michael J. Zupancic.

Plusquellic said during the ceremony that he expected Zupancic would take a lot of ribbing.

''He will continue to remind you that he is not related to me by blood, but only by marriage,'' Plusquellic quipped.

Chapman asked Curry how badly she wanted the job just before Curry began the 12-week training regimen.

''Being a woman and a mother increases the difficulty,'' Chapman said. ''I had two youngsters when I came on.''

So far, Curry hasn't disappointed.

''I told her she really did me proud,'' Chapman said. ''She's really proven herself.''