Boston Firefighters Build Unity, Increase Interest in Department Through Volunteer Program

A humid day in Mattapan did not slow the pace of an intense basketball game between teachers from Mattahunt Elementary School and a team from the Boston Fire Department.

Kimberly Hogan, part of the teacher’s team, said her student spectators were thrilled to watch.

"The kids are all amped,” Hogan said. “They're very excited to see the firefighters."

That's the idea of the Fire Department's Community Enrichment Program, or CEP, to get young people excited about the fire service. The outreach effort started with a friendship on the court.

Jorge Diaz, one of the two department members who started CEP, spoke at halftime.

"Larry and I met playing basketball,” he said. “We used to play pickup basketball in the mornings."

That was several years ago. Diaz and Larry Smith then started visiting local community centers and mentoring young people.

CEP became an official department program last October, after the two pitched it to Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn.

"Just exposing kids in the inner-city to positive role models is terrific,” Finn said. “Then getting them interested in the service, the fire service, and wanting them to think about the fire department as a possible career opportunity."

For years, there have been calls to increase diversity in the department. CEP is one of several efforts underway to try to do that.

"We've certainly upped our game around recruitment,” Finn said. “Certainly, we need to be reflective of the communities we serve."

"What does it take to get on the fire department? What are some of the things? A lot of kids don't know,” Smith said.

"They might see us and say, ‘If you guys can do it, then we can too,’" Diaz said.

The game in Mattapan included an information session for the elementary school kids.

Older kids involved with CEP take to the court and play. The first season brought kids from six community centers together. In addition to increasing interest in the Fire Department, the program also aims to reduce violence by building unity.

All the firefighters involved are volunteers.

Smith and Diaz said they hope to expand CEP and ultimately have a presence in every community center across Boston.