Boston’s New Fire Cadet Program

Employment, Racial Justice

Boston’s New “Fire Cadet” Program: Will It Actually Help Diversify The Boston Fire Department?

Firefighters Of Color And Civil Rights Advocates Say Program Holds Promise – But Only If Implemented Correctly

Today, firefighters of color and their allies are announcing an action plan essential to ensuring that the City of Boston’s new Fire Cadet program will actually diversify the predominantly white fire department as intended. 

For many years, the Boston Society of the Vulcans (“the Vulcans”), a non-profit organization comprised of Black and Latinx firefighters that acts to expand diverse access to public safety careers, has advocated for the development of a cadet program to advance diversity in the Boston Fire Department (“BFD”). The BFD remains a predominantly white male institution — more than 72% white and more than 94% male — spotlighting that this critical public safety agency has long failed to keep pace with an increasingly diverse community.

“This is a victory, but there is still a lot of work ahead to ensure that the cadet program offers a fair chance to diverse candidates,” said Darrell HigginbottomPresident of the Vulcans. “We look forward to playing a meaningful role in that work, and hope to implement a formalized mentorship program to accompany this new initiative.”

The Boston Fire Cadet Program is the result of legislation recently passed at the Massachusetts State House, and initiated as a Home Rule Petition by the City of Boston in June 2019. Similar legislation was passed to create a Boston Police Cadet Program in 1979, of which the 2016 and 2018 classes have included more than 60% diverse admission. Representative Chynah Tyler was key in the passage of the state legislation for the Fire Cadet Program. “This program is a valuable step in reducing barriers created by civil service and ensuring that these positions are available to all,” said Representative Tyler

“There is much work to be done to ensure that the new cadet program serves as a pipeline for Black and Brown youth into the fire department; and that requires that diversity remain a primary goal throughout the creation and rollout of this program,” said Sophia HallSupervising Attorney at LCR.

LCR, the Vulcans, and key allies are laying out a series of meaningful steps they say the City must take to ensure that the inaugural cadet program recruits, retains and employs diverse candidates: 

The BFD Cadet Program must formally include involvement from the Vulcans. At the development stage, thought leadership from those with deep knowledge of the barriers to diversity is critical to maintain a diverse perspective and focus. At the recruitment stage, the Vulcans’ community relationships are critical to promote the largest possible pool and campaign of diverse candidates. And at the retention stage, the Vulcans’ mentorship is needed to ensure completion of the program and a successful rate of diverse hiring.  

The BFD Cadet Program must maximize the 1/3 hiring cap permitted by the authorizing legislation. The goal of enhancing diversity through this program is forward-looking, as the inaugural cadet class will not be eligible for employment for two years. The only way that this program can meaningfully affect the stagnant demographics that have plagued the BFD is if the diverse hiring of eligible cadets is intentional and significant. 

The BFD Cadet Program must develop a clear and intentional definition of residency. To ensure that the cadet program prioritizes long-term Boston residents and diverse candidates, residency must be defined as having lived in Boston for at least five years, similar to the Boston Police Cadet Program. In addition, a focus on Boston area schools with diverse attendance is essential. 

“Creation a Boston Fire cadet program is an important step forward to diversify the least diverse public safety agency in the City of Boston,” said Boston City Councilor Andrea Campbell, who as Chair of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, recommended creation of a Fire cadet program in a report over two years ago. “From its earliest stages, implementing this program must include members of the Vulcans to inform and help achieve its goals of true diversity.”