South Bend Fire lowers application age, aims for diversity

Attention applicants! 

The South Bend Fire Department is looking for younger firefighters than ever before. 

“Our feeling was that if an individual is able to join the military at age 18, and take on the responsibilities associated with a job like that, that the same should hold true for the fire service,” said South Bend Fire Chief Steve Cox.

That feeling will become reality once applications open in November.

The department has lowered the age minimum from 21 to 18. 

It’s a move fire Cox says will help the department compete on a level playing field with the military and even colleges for fresh young applicants.

“One of the things that we felt was a barrier to reaching that potential group of applicants was the simple fact that we had 21 as an age requirement,” Cox said. 

With widening the age gap, Cox also hopes to see an increase in women, African-American and Hispanic applicants.

“With any governmental unit you want to be able to reflect the community you serve,” Cox said. 

That’s a sentiment South Bend common councilman Henry Davis Jr. agrees with. 

He’s been pushing for a lower application age and more diverse staff for a while.

“This opens up our new way of recruiting and getting our best and our brightest and those who want to stay in South Bend to work here,” Davis said.

Staying local is also one of Cox’s selling points for a career in the department. 

“The gratification that comes out of doing a job like this is absolutely phenomenal. It’s second to none,” Cox said.

The department will also partner with South Bend Community Schools and Ivy Tech to create co-ops for high school students to learn firefighting skills.

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