Four Black officers join department
DuJuan Williams can finally say he is a Minneapolis Fire Department (MFD) graduate. Williams was among the 19-member firefighting Class of 2018 who graduated December 14 at the MFD’s Emergency Operations Training Facility in Fridley.
Williams embarked on his firefighting career with a passion earlier this year. The longtime North Minneapolis resident didn’t wait for an opening in his city. Instead, he applied in January and was accepted as a cadet at the St. Paul Fire Department, where he trained, graduated and joined the force in May. He worked there for six months until the opportunity arose at MFD and he did it all over again. In all, Williams committed some 30 weeks of proven dedication to the profession.
“I’m just really proud of myself,” said Williams. “I come for a very hard background — [with my] mom and dad not [being] there and I’m trying to show my kids what they can accomplish.”
The average fire academy cadet program entails 12 to 14 weeks and 600 hours of preparation. There is no accelerated program or other fast-tracking at the MFD. Mandatory qualifications include the ability to speak, write, and understand a second spoken language or be fluent in American Sign Language.
There’s nothing better than to serve the community you’re living in.
“Everyone goes through the same training, has to pass the same tests, is held to the same standard,” said Deputy Chief of Training Johnathan Klepp, a 20-year MFD veteran. “So, when they [graduate], they are fully licensed [by] the State of Minnesota. That’s important. This is an extremely dangerous profession. People call us because they are in great danger and need someone to help. We want to make sure all your firefighters, when they hit the street, are prepared.”
Entering the facility, you immediately get a sense of that responsibility with a large wall plaque solemnly inscribed, “Dedicated to the memory of the members of the Minneapolis Fire Department who made the ultimate sacrifice and responded to their last alarm.”
Klepp reflected, “In the fire service, it’s such an important responsibility to acknowledge those who gave their lives, to keep their memory alive, make sure they’re not forgotten.”
The MFD, he underscored, is a principally homegrown organization.
“All the classes we hire are truly for the future,” said Klepp. “We don’t promote from outside our departments. We don’t bring other chiefs in. So the people we’re hiring now will become those drivers, those captains, chiefs. The present chief of the department, John Fruetel, could have come from this class, today.”
Klepp noted that in a city as richly diverse as Minneapolis, “it’s immensely important that the people you have serving this population represent that population.
“People who grow up in these neighborhoods are going to protect their own neighborhoods,” Klepp said. “We love seeing that, more and more with each class we hire, we look more like the community they’re going to serve than ever before. We’re incredibly proud of it.”
As one of four Black firefighters who graduated last week, Williams did note that Minneapolis still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity.
“Honestly, there aren’t too many African American in our fire department,” Williams said. “But, Minneapolis has been doing a great thing of bringing different minorities in.”
In this interest, the Minneapolis Fire Department and Hennepin EMS launched the EMS Pathways Academy in 2016. The 13-week Emergency Medical Technician training and certification regimen
Qualification as an EMT is an entry-level step that can lead to becoming Minneapolis firefighters, Hennepin EMS dispatchers and, through continued training, paramedics.
North High School students were among the first to participate in this program at a department that, as of July 2017, was 71 percent White. The first EMS Pathways graduating class included 91 percent people of color and was more than half female.
Klepp, an Asian American, added, “It’s also important those people are able to serve. Preparing so they’re ready from the day they step onto a fire engine.”
Being a Black firefighter, Williams acknowledged, is also about more than the City filling affirmative action quotas. If you can’t cut it, you’re cut.
“It’s hard to get these jobs,” he said. “It’s rough. It’s been hard to stay dedicated. Test after test, [physically] working out.”
But the reward is worth much more than the sacrifice.
“I’m just glad, being able to show the community where you came from that you can do anything when you put your mind to it,” said Williams. “Sticking with it and staying positive. There’s nothing better than to serve the community you’re living in.”