For seven of Akron’s 42 new fire cadets, firefighting is a family business.
They each have a brother, uncle, stepfather, brother-in-law or father who serves or served on the Akron Fire Department.
“That’s very common,” said Fire Chief Rob Ross, who has had a relative in the department since 1918. “It tends to run in families.”
Among the department’s family tree is Nathan Wroblewski, whose father, Robert, has been an Akron firefighter for 25 years. He has dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps since he was a boy.
“It’s an awesome job,” said Wroblewski, 23. “It’s a good way to give back to the community.”
Asked who was more excited, the son said he was.
“It’s like winning the lottery,” Wroblewski said with a big smile.
Mayor Don Plusquellic swore in the 42 cadets — the largest fire class in the city’s history — during a ceremony Friday evening at First United Methodist Church before more than 250 people in attendance.
Plusquellic joked that when he walked in and saw all of the cadets, he asked, “Who approved that?”
“We need two times that many,” Plusquellic said, noting the financial struggles that cities have faced, making staffing for safety forces difficult. The addition of the firefighters, who will report to their stations beginning Sunday, brings the department’s strength to 361.
The influx means the department will be able to go back to having four firefighters on most vehicles, rather than running many with three, Ross said.
“We’re very thankful to have them,” he said.
The city had a recruitment campaign to try to attract more women and minorities. The new class includes seven African-Americans, one Hispanic and 34 whites. The class has 39 males and three females, boosting the number of women in the department to 11.
“We’re trying to get the message out that this is a job that women can do,” Ross said.
Erica Sewell, 30, applied for the job after seeing a recruitment sign. She hopes other women will follow her lead.
“They think it’s a man’s job,” she said. “If we can do it, anybody can do it.”
The class also includes 27 military veterans. Akron received a federal grant that will cover the salaries and benefits of 38 of the firefighters for two years. With the veterans, the city will be eligible for another year of federal funds to cover their salaries and benefits, Ross said.
The department had 1,041 candidates take its entrance exam in February. After the written test, the cadets then had to successfully complete a physical skills test, medical and psychological tests, and a background investigation.
The department isn’t done with its hiring. Akron is required to maintain a certain staffing level to keep its federal funds and the city plans to hire 10 to 15 more firefighters in the next year to replace people who retire and meet the required level.
The city will pay for outside training for the cadets and then hire them as needed to fill vacancies, Ross said.