GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was 31 years ago and Eric Freemen, who grew up in Grand Rapids, was 19 and not sure of what his future held. That’s when his firefighter stepfather mentioned the Grand Rapids Fire Department was hiring.

“It wasn’t even on my radar,” said Freeman, whose duties include recruitment for the department. “And I find that when I go to schools and other events, I find a lot of the kids and a lot of the young people in this are don’t even think about it.”

Today, Freeman is the GRFD’s Assistant Chief and he hopes a new GRFD program will help solve that problem.

Applications for the inaugural Grand Rapids Fire Department Cadet program are due Sept. 7.

It’s a part-time, paid internship. Cadets will work between 16 and 20 hours a week, for up to a year. Applicants need to be at least 18, with a high school diploma or GED and a valid driver’s license to apply.

The cadet program is designed to attract more of those “19-year-old Eric Freemans.”

“We’re looking for people that really want to do things to help people in Grand Rapids. And that is central to anything we do, is our interest in the people that live here,” Freeman said. “People that live right here in the city, they are the least educated when it comes to how they can get on board to their own local fire department. So we figure we can help fix that.”

Cadets will work alongside city firefighters, observing everything from fighting fires to responding to medical calls and community outreach, like fire prevention.

It’s not all about the lights and sirens.

“There’s so many other things we do. Whether it’s in the community. Whether it’s in the fire prevention role. Whether it’s the education they would receive from us,” Freeman said. “Young people could learn this as a job, see what it is that we do, get behind the curtain a little bit and then make a decision on whether it’s something they want to do moving forward.”

The cadet program is about creating opportunities for young people in the community.

GRFD has never had a problem attracting applicants to the job. Freeman said the cadet program creates a way to bring more homegrown talent to the department.

“We still attract hundreds of people all the time. We don’t get local people from Grand Rapids. We don’t always get the people who are from right here in the community,” Freeman said.

He said there are benefits of having someone who grew up in the city responding to calls for help.

“There’s familiarity there. They’re able to reach out and talk to other people who live in their city, in their neighborhoods. There’s an interest in the citizens because these are their neighbors. They’re the people that live right next door to them,” Freeman said.

To learn more about the Grand Rapids Fire Department Cadet program, click here.