As Houston firefighter cadets sweat out their training during this incredibly hot summer season, the department is also looking to increase its ranks to help respond to a crisis.
The department is offering $2,500 in incentive pay to applicants who have their fire and Emergency Medical Technician certifications and a $3,000 incentive pay to applicants with fire and paramedic certifications, according to Tameka Hardison, human resources division manager who oversees HFD recruiting efforts.
“Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and it is very important to ensure trained and certified firefighters and EMTs are available and accessible to respond to various types of fires and medical emergencies throughout the city, 24 hours a day,” she said.
Hardison said HFD recruiting efforts are ongoing and the team continues to increase and expand outreach efforts to share information about careers with the department.
“Efforts to expand are being planned in order to recruit throughout the city, state of Texas, and surrounding states such as Louisiana,” she explained.
Many recruits are coming from other careers, often from fire departments, military training and some are fresh out of school, Hardison said.
Hardison also said the department will continue to recruit potential candidates through career fairs and community events, as well as engaging in non-traditional methods of recruiting, including online events or sports events.
She cautioned, however, that a career as a firefighter is not for everyone.
“This job is a commitment to public service, to aid and support. The training for a new cadet is intense,” she said. “It requires individuals to make a career decision to complete the process and complete it successfully.
“The position requires physical stamina and academic attentiveness. Applicants must be willing to commit to put in the work and a commitment to themselves to complete it successfully. It takes heart,” Hardison said.
Cadet Janelle Mitchell of Chicago is a perfect example. Mitchell moved to Houston three years ago and decided to join the fire department at age 34, making her one of the oldest cadets at the training academy. (HFD accepts cadets from 18 to 35 years old; cadets cannot reach the age of 36 before being sworn in.)
Like her fellow cadets, Mitchell has endured the heatwave that has blanketed the city for the past several weeks. Exercises such as the consumption drill — where cadets climb up and down a five-story tower dressed in full gear until their air tanks are depleted — can be mentally challenging, she admitted.
“What was I thinking when I joined this? That I was a little crazy,” she joked after she and two other cadets completed their turns on the grueling event. “I’m not going to lie; this is probably the toughest thing mentally that I have ever done.”
Mitchell said she felt like she couldn’t catch her breath as she first climbed the stairs. “I think I panicked on the first set of towers,” she said. “I had to mentally talk myself down from the ledge because I wanted to go out the side doors.”
She said what got her through the drill were her fellow cadets.
“I saw the people in front of me and thought: ‘They’re moving their feet, just keep moving yours.’ There’s no way you’re not going to reach the top if you just keep moving your feet,” she said.
Hardison said Houston residents depend on the services HFD provides. “Fire and EMS are essential to all citizens of Houston,” she said. “HFD members are certified to respond in times of crisis while demonstrating the knowledge and having the equipment to do so.”
She also said she wants the public to understand how important being a firefighter is.
“This is a phenomenal career where you will make a difference in Houstonians’ lives,” she said. “This is a rewarding career that engages you with citizens of Houston and their realities of life emergencies.”
“A citizen’s worst day could end up being their best day because of a Houston Firefighter or EMT protecting their property and saving their lives.”