The Fire Cadet Academy has drawn nearly 100 young people from all different backgrounds from all five boroughs to pursue a career in the FDNY. As Fire Cadets, they are currently learning the traditions and culture of the FDNY through classroom time, physical training, and various work rotations throughout the Department. It can be an intense experience.
“Day one, you’re lined up at the Rock. You’re in your uniforms and it was kind of a culture shock because it’s kind of like boot camp,” said Fire Cadet Joshua Lee. “But I understand that it’s all a part of discipline and being highly organized. You get the feeling they really want you to succeed in this process.”
Lee is first generation Korean American. He says he got the idea to join the program after speaking to FDNY Firefighter and friend Jason Kim. “It told me that if he can do this, I can do this too. And I think that’s what definitely motivated me to join this program. By doing this, I want to send a message that as long as you have a good heart and willing to put in the work, anything is possible.”
There are approximately 265 Asian American firefighters in the FDNY. Firefighter Benjamin Chou, President of the Phoenix Society, FDNY’s Asian affinity group, says there have consistently been about eight Asian Probationary Firefighters per class at the Fire Academy, but his group is trying to change that.
“The Phoenix Society is trying to make an active push in demonstrating that firefighting is a plausible career for young Asian Americans. We have been conducting a lot of our outreach into the Asian communities and working to project a positive image that there are Asian American firefighters and that it is possible for them to do it too,” said Firefighter Chou.
Lee says his parents were initially very worried about his decision to pursue firefighting. “They were a little shocked. My parents were worried that it’s very dangerous, which is funny to me because a lot of men in Korean households serve in the military,” said Lee. “The idea of going into a burning building is insane but at the same time, it’s noble. This whole organization is just amazing because you’re working with some of the bravest, kindest, and hardworking people.”
Upon completion of the two-year Fire Cadet Academy, graduating Cadets are given the opportunity to take the Promotion to Firefighter exam, allowing them to propel into the Fire Academy. It’s something that Cadet Lee is looking forward to so he can also inspire others. “As an Asian-American, I can imagine there are other people who can say ‘Wow, I have a chance to do that as well,’ just as how I saw my friend told me about this program.”
Lee’s first work rotation, one of six, is with the Office of the Fire Commissioner. He does a lot of data entry, updating profiles and databases, and he likes it. “There’s so much going on behind the scenes. It’s a group effort and people really take pride in what they do. It’s very rare to be working amongst great people. I really appreciate the camaraderie that we have, and I know that’s going to build more relationships and bonds.”