The Minneapolis Fire Department on Friday graduated its first class of cadets this year, with war veterans making up the majority of the class.
They're trading one uniform for another.
Cadet Nick Kropf decided to apply after leaving the Air Force. His father, who was a firefighter in Duluth, encouraged the career change.
"I like the idea of being able to help people when they're at their weakest point," Kropf said.
Nearly all of the cadets — 18 out of 19 — are veterans who represent all branches of the U.S. military.
Assistant Fire Chief Chérie Penn said veterans have always been attracted to firefighting, but the increased deployments in recent decades makes veterans' continued duty all the more impressive. They served their country and now they're willing to continue working in public service, she said.
"When they get out of the military they're not done with that commitment."
Veterans who completed at least 180 consecutive days in the military receive 10 preference points when applying for local government jobs, which can help increase their chances of getting hired. The federal government raised that number from five points last year, which makes this cadet class only the second to be chosen incorporating the additional preference points.
That means that veterans, who consistently made up the majority of applicants, are applying in even greater numbers, Penn said.
While preference points aren't a guarantee that veterans will be admitted, officials agree that it provides a leg up for those who already have the necessary skills to do well on written and physical exams.
Jobs for veterans have become more of a priority in recent years, and on Tuesday Gov. Mark Dayton reinforced that by announcing a new pilot program in Minnesota that will provide free hotel rooms while they look for work. Those who qualify could save up to $600 on lodging.
Fire officials say, however, that while it's not a concerted effort to recruit veterans, the large majority of their cadets are indeed former soldiers.
Recruiting is done across a broad spectrum, but veterans find the Fire Department particularly attractive because it is a paramilitary organization with a similar command structure to what many know so well, cadets and officials said.
But sometimes the unintended result of the hiring process is a lack of diversity, Assistant Fire Chief Charles Brynteson said.
This year's cadet class was all male and predominately white, with one black. The Fire Department wants its recruits to mirror the population of Minneapolis, Brynteson said, which this group doesn't.
"They've earned their right to be here and we're happy to have them," he said. "But ideally speaking, we'd like to do a better job in that area."
What made this year's class stand out was its unusually high retention rate, said J.R. Klepp, deputy chief of training.
Previous classes have weeded out about one-third of the cadets, he said, but this year everyone made the cut.
"Nineteen started and 19 finished," Klepp said. "No one here remembers a class where everyone finished."
One way the department is attempting to better reflect the community they serve is by offering 10 preference points to Minneapolis residents. Several of this year's cadets qualified.
On Friday, Cliff Schrader celebrated his transition from an explosives specialist in the Navy to a firefighter. The change will provide him a similar sense of excitement and duty as before, Schrader said, but allow him to be close to his family.
"I trust people to take care of him like he would take care of anybody else," said his wife, Kori Schrader.