1200 Weimer Hall | P.O. Box 118405
Gainesville, FL 32611
(352) 392-5551

A service of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

© 2024 WUFT / Division of Media Properties
News and Public Media for North Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Alachua County Fire Rescue’s day-off policy credited with attracting new recruits

An Alachua County Fire Rescue truck is seen leaving Fire Station 1 on its way to a call. (Natalie Tajeddine/WUFT News)
An Alachua County Fire Rescue truck is seen leaving Fire Station 1 on its way to a call. (Natalie Tajeddine/WUFT News)

Alachua County Fire Rescue celebrated its largest pinning ceremony to date as the department welcomed nearly 45 new firefighters, EMTs and paramedics to the team.

The new recruits are preparing to hit the road and serve the community, just in time for the implementation of the department's three-week Kelly Day. This happens to be one of the largest contracts in the department's history.

This new policy, which provides one paid day off every three weeks, will take effect on May 22 and is partially responsible for the department's significant increase in staff. Alachua County Fire Rescue recognizes the efforts of its staff every day and acknowledges they deserve the time to recuperate and balance work in their lives.

“There’s a large push for work-life balance and mental health wellness for public safety professionals throughout the country,” Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Jeff Taylor, 49, said. “We’re no exception.”

This change will make ACFR the only department north of I-4 that has a three-week Kelly Day. To implement this, ACFR had to bring in more staff to cover the personal time off, and that was one reason this class was bigger than past pinning ceremonies.

In the world of first responders, a pinning ceremony is a symbolic event that represents dedication and commitment to duty. For the students who participated in this ceremony, it was the culmination of six weeks of rigorous training.

Diamond Smith, 25, was born and raised in Gainesville. He said he decided to go through fire school which he considers similar to the sports he played growing up. Smith, who grew up in Gainesville, has played basketball all his life. Being a part of a team was ingrained in Smith’s mind.

“From a sports aspect, it was kind of like a tryout, you got to put in the work in order for them to say you know what, this person is somebody who we can benefit from,” Smith said.

During the training period, the trainees spend their Mondays to Thursdays at the headquarters, doing HR work and learning about the county. Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays is a 24-hour shift when they learn the ropes of everything they'll be doing as first responders.

“They coached us on how to do it their way - the way they need us to perform,” Smith said. “But honestly, if you are a good person and you understand your job and know what you are supposed to do, it’s not hard.”

Recruitment and retention have been a top priority for Alachua County Fire Rescue, and other fire departments all around Florida. The department values hiring the best individuals, with a focus on character over experience.

Jennifer DiSanto, 43, is the new captain of recruitment at ACFR. She also works in Public Education and serves as the PIO. DiSanto is responsible for scouting and attracting top talent to join the team.

“I will be going all around looking for new recruits,” DiSanto said. “One thing that makes us stand out is that we are really progressive as far as medical protocols.”

Alachua County Fire Rescue ranks on character when selecting and training new workers. By hiring the best caliber of people, the department aims to build a welcoming community and maintain a team of dedicated first responders committed to serving the community.

“We want to hire the person first,” Taylor said. “We can train firefighters, we can't train good people.”

The pinning ceremony symbolizes dedication and commitment to duty. It showcases the future of Alachua County Fire Rescue. Diamond Smith, 25, earned the leadership award of his orientation group at the event.

“I honestly didn’t expect to win it, but when I heard my name get called it was a very exciting moment, a very accomplishing moment,” Smith said.

Smith was cheered on by his support group, including his wife, daughter, parents, grandmother and even aunts and uncles who came to cheer on his recognition and accomplishments thus far.

“I think they were more excited than me to hear my name called,” Smith said. “They really enjoyed the ceremony.”

The next step consists of finishing all necessary certifications, memorizing ranks and becoming an all-around better employee. Smith, who has spent a great portion of his life in leadership, said he hopes to reach the same level within the department one day.

“The best leadership qualities I will learn are from following and learning from the leadership I have,” Smith said.

Taylor and the ACFR anticipate the orientation class will be fully certified and out on the streets serving the community by the end of May when Kelly Day is implemented.

Natalie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.