GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There was a time when all the Grand Rapids Fire Department had to do was drive down the road, sirens blaring and lights flashing, to let the public know its firefighters were on the job. These days, it’s not that easy.
Letting the public know what their tax dollars are paying for when it comes to the fire department is one of John Lehman’s goals.
“We need to toot our own horns sometimes, but it needs to be done in a humble way,” Lehman, the newly appointed Grand Rapids fire chief, said.
He replaces former Chief Laura Knapp, who retired in January.
Part of the effort to make the public more aware of the GRFD and its efforts involve making the department look more like the community it serves. The lack of minorities is most noticeable at the command level of the GRFD. The eight permanent positions in the deputy and battalion chief ranks include two women, but no African-Americans or Hispanics.
“You’re not going to necessarily automatically diversify the upper ranks structure of the fire department,” Lehman said. “It takes time.”
It starts with recruitment. But attracting minorities to a career that has historically appealed to white males who carry on the tradition of firefighting for generations can be a challenge. Lehman said he’ll look to the community to help diversify the department.
“My intention is to work with community groups within those targeted populations to find the best possible organizations,” he said.
Lehman comes to Grand Rapids after retiring earlier this year from his post as fire chief in Aurora, Illinois. His old department is almost a mirror reflection of GRFD in size and scope.
That makes Grand Rapids a good fit for a veteran chief who’s not ready to hang up his helmet.
“I’m really, really encouraged about what I see here in Grand Rapids,” Lehman said.