ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The 91st class of 65 new Orange County Fire Rescue recruits marks the department’s most diverse class in history.
Department officials say more than half of the members in the group are Hispanic, Black or Asian. Recruit Paris Nunn, a graduate of the University of Central Florida, is one of 19 women in the class.
“I’ve done service my whole life. I was in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia then I got into the fitness industry, so merging the two of service and fitness and having purpose is why I became a recruit,” Nunn said.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that women make up 4% of all firefighters. The new recruits put Orange County at 9%, more than double the national average. The female recruits in Orange County are doing the same rigorous training as the men, lifting 70 pounds with the hose and oxygen tank. That doesn’t include the additional 20 pounds of bunker gear they will be wearing on a call.
“I’m very passionate about women’s empowerment so to be able to have this opportunity and to be at the same level, or even better than the men. We’re living in a time where we need to step it up and be strong and fierce to be able to complete these obstacles mentally and physically so it’s empowering to be here,” Nunn said. “All of us come from different backgrounds and we’re very diverse. But all of us have different skills and different background and that’s what makes us awesome.”
The new unique class of recruits is a result of the department’s “#GoBeyond” campaign, which was launched with the purpose of creating a team that better reflects the communities they serve. The campaign kicked off when the coronavirus pandemic hit, so face-to-face recruiting was off the table.
“We advertised on social media, we put out billboards at certain areas to attract certain demographics. We did virtual job fairs and virtual meetings. But most of our recruits came from referrals from current employees,” said Lt. Jacqueson Elie, a recruiter for the Orange County Fire Rescue Department.
Most recruits are not certified and will have to go through fire and EMT school and complete the Orange County firefighter orientation program. If they pass their assessments, their education and training will be paid for through the county.
The recruits will be out on the streets as EMTs and firefighters in August 2021.