Twenty high school graduates participated in a “career signing day” ceremony with Osceola County Fire Rescue & EMS, formalizing their enrollment as the department’s first-ever class of full-time, non-certified firefighter candidates known as Fire Cadets. 

Each candidate, joined by their family, had the opportunity to “sign” with Osceola County in a similar fashion to student-athlete signings; donning an official Osceola County Fire Rescue & EMS hat, and posing for a photo with Fire Chief Larry Collier. This program is one of several avenues the department is exploring to increase recruitment and retention within the department, especially among candidates from the local Osceola County community. 

Osceola County Fire Rescue
Osceola County Fire Rescue

The program, developed in coordination with the Osceola County Board of County Commissioners and the County’s Human Resources department, brings candidates on board as full-time employees with Osceola County during their training and certification process. Under the premise of “earn while you learn,” each Fire Cadet will earn a competitive full-time salary and a slate of employee benefits – including insurance, retirement, vacation time, and more – while they are enrolled in certification coursework through Valencia College. The County has piloted a similar program with partially-certified candidates in the past, though this is the first time the department has extended the opportunity to non-certified high school graduates.

Following their onboarding process as County employees, the Fire Cadet cohort will begin their Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification coursework this summer before moving to Florida Firefighting Standards in the fall. Upon completion of their coursework and certifications, the Fire Cadet class will transition to their initial training as probationary firefighters with Osceola County Fire Rescue & EMS.

The broader emphasis on recruiting “locally” stems from a need for the department to combat the rising deficit of qualified firefighters statewide, while meeting the fast-growing public safety needs of a county that is one of the fastest growing in the state.

Osceola County Fire Rescue & EMS has opened 2 new fire stations since 2019, with 3 more stations planned to open within the next 5 years, which present significant staffing needs in addition to expected openings caused by annual retirements. By deploying strategies that bring candidates on-board as employees immediately – like the cadet program, one of the first of its kind in the region – the department seeks to develop a culture of career investment among firefighters that encourages growth and longevity within the organization.