A potential public health crisis is developing across the United States and it is putting citizens at risk.
As we go about our daily lives, we rely upon the police officer diverting traffic away from a crash, the firefighter who pulls the victim from the crumpled car and the paramedic who performs life-saving CPR measures. But fewer people are applying for these first-responder jobs.
Police departments in some cities are reporting a 90% drop in applications. Without fresh manpower to replace an aging workforce, the public safety industry is left to compete with safer and better-paying industries over a dwindling pool of qualified applicants. And with the economy at “full employment” this competition for workers has intensified.
Imagine calling 911 and waiting indefinitely as your house is reduced to cinders because a short-staffed fire department can’t keep up with demand for emergency services.
The threat of short-staffed departments is happening in rural towns outside of Baltimore, as a lack of volunteers to supplement firefighting staff led one department to admit it can’t handle every call.
Whether it’s a fire department serving a population of millions or a small-town police force counting fewer than a dozen officers, American taxpayers expect a timely response and impeccable training to protect the lives of people in their communities. This assumption is threatened and faith in our public sector will be shattered if solutions to this employment crisis are not addressed.
If we consider the dire shortage of first-responders as a figurative towering inferno, then the Cuyahoga Community College / KeyBank Public Safety Training Center is the translucent “In Case of Fire, Break Glass” panel over the alarm.
This public-private partnership with KeyBank is showing the power of corporate funding in expanding job training programs to meet the increasing demands of our 21st-century economy.
Saving Lives, Changing Lives
Since 1982, the Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) Public Safety Training Institute, located in Parma, Ohio, has produced some of the finest, best-trained firefighting recruits in the state.
One graduate and current Tri-C instructor, Rob Reinholz, was named the 2010 Ohio Fire Officer of the Year for his outstanding service to his community of Cleveland Heights.
Firefighter Will Anderson, who is the Assistant Fire Chief of the suburban Cleveland enclave of Euclid, raves about the quality of future first-responders Tri-C produces.
“When we hire a recruit from the Tri-C Fire Academy or paramedic program, we know that the individual will have received expert instruction from a staff filled with passionate fire and EMS instructors who want to see each recruit succeed,” Anderson says.
The intensive training offered to students and public safety departments alike takes place in a state-of-the-art facility containing 12 classrooms and labs, a 4,000-square-foot burn building, an above-ground trench training area to practice confined space rescues and other amenities necessary for this highly specialized work.
And for potential applicants, the certainty of landing a job after graduation in a growth industry is another enticement to enter a career which is, by definition, hazardous to their health.
Out With the Old, In With The New (Generation)
When the KeyBank Public Safety Training Center opened at the Tri-C’s Western Campus in 2014, it became the model facility for training Northeast Ohio’s first-responders. But even with its sleek and technologically-advanced campus, KeyBank leaders recognized that investing further in Tri-C could open more opportunities for a diverse range of students.
By 2022, Northeast Ohioans will need 1,500 new public safety personnel each year to replace retiring law enforcement, EMS and firefighters, according to employment projections from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
This correlates with nationwide numbers showing a huge leap in the number of EMS calls funneled through dispatch centers. The nation’s 30,000 fire departments responded to 31.6 million calls in 2013, nearly triple the amount since 1980. First-responders are in demand more than ever and the protective service industry is projected to grow 4% by 2024, adding an estimated 153,900 new jobs.
“KeyBank and the KeyBank Foundation made this investment at [Tri-C] to train the next generation of first-responders. These are the faces that will protect the residents of Northeast Ohio far into the future,” KeyBank Foundation chair and CEO Margot Copeland said last year to the Tri-C Times.
The $1.4 million grant allows the school to increase its public outreach to women, minorities and military veterans through new programs which create a workforce pipeline stretching from orientation to employment.
Though Tri-C has not compromised its mission in giving students expert training, meeting the overwhelming demand for qualified applicants – especially women and people of color – was unsustainable.
This is where the grant to the Tri-C Foundation also comes into play. Through the bank’s grant, goals were set to increase enrollment through scholarship opportunities and boost the overall graduation rate by 35%.
For women and minority students, the graduation rate thresholds are pushed even higher. Over the next three years, Tri-C wants to increase its graduation rate for women 97% and minorities 54%.
“Diversity and inclusion are major tenets of how we advance our culture at KeyBank and we want diverse and inclusive communities as well as workplaces,” Copeland says.
To inspire the next generation to consider public safety as a career, Tri-C created a tuition-free summer academy where young people can get their first taste of the excitement and camaraderie that protecting their community brings.
The grant also allowed the creation of a new position within the training center to improve engagement between the school, communities and employers. In total, the PSTC is a vertically-integrated institution designed to keep students on an upward path and help them secure future employment.
Representation and Respect
Attracting and retaining these future heroes is a solution to increasing representation within departments and better reflects the communities where they serve.
Asst. Fire Chief Anderson says overcoming his department’s lack of minority employees through better recruitment, training and job placement is a goal worth achieving.
Only 6% of Euclid’s fire department consist of minorities. Weigh this against the city population’s 55% minority-majority and there is a disconnect between the community and the faces arriving at the emergency scene.
“The benefits of having a workforce that matches the makeup of the community are numerous. Through public relations and public education, we can better understand the needs and desires of our community,” Anderson says.
You can watch in the WorkingNation video the story of Tri-C fire academy cadet Savon Collins, 21, from Cleveland. He’s looking to become a fire chief and fire investigator, where he could make as much as $56,130 per year.
“The need to want to help people is in my blood,” Collins says, “My mom’s a nurse so we love helping people.”
His teacher, Reinholz, has taken notice of Collins passion and drive to succeed.
“What I notice about Mr. Collins, he wants to learn and he has a lot of ambition. That’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking for heart and Collins shows that. He’ll be an excellent firefighter,” Reinholz says.
Through the program he’s achieving his full potential and lifelong dream to become a firefighter and role model for his community. By serving the citizens of Cleveland, and its 55% minority population, Collins hopes his work will lead to the next generation of black firefighters.
“I think being a black firefighter means to my community that they have another figure that they can look up to. Because, if you don’t see anyone in your community doing something, then you don’t think that that goal is achievable,” Collins says.
Join the Conversation: Tell us what you think of Savon’s story and The KeyBank Foundation’s goals to help Tri-C improve minority representation in public safety on our Facebook page.
Through our Do Something Awesome series, WorkingNation is committed to telling powerful stories of programs across the nation which prepare Americans for the future of work. Check out our previous mini-documentaries here.