DC Fire’s cadet program aims to give young adults a ‘fair shot’ for success

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is shining a spotlight on the city’s “Fair Shot” programs, which give residents in underserved communities resources to improve their lives.

For hundreds of young people in the District, that fair shot has been with the DC Fire and EMS Cadet Program.

When Jashawn Evans was a 16-year-old sophomore at Ballou Senior High School, his future looked golden. He was at the top of his class and was “doing huge things,” when he was shot in the leg while standing on his front porch.

“When something like that happens, it makes you realize that anything can happen to anybody at any time; it really makes you look at life in a different kind of way,” Evans said.

For Evans, it meant changing his mind set about the people he was hanging out with, while enduring the grueling physical therapy required to play baseball again.

Then, in his senior year, on the day he was filling out his financial aid forms for college, Evans was devastated to learn that his older brother died. He found his own methods for working through his emotional trauma and depression, and was accepted to Old Dominion University.

Cadet Jashawn Evans shares his thoughts on the DC Fire and EMS Cadet Program. (Courtesy D.C. Fire and EMS)

After a year, Evans said he realized college was not really for him, but something in a social media post that piqued his interest. A former teacher posted about the DC Fire and EMS Cadet program. Evans applied, was accepted, and now at age 19, he is one of the 28 members of the current Cadet Class 24.

He said the program is an opportunity to give of himself to his community.

The DC Fire and EMS Cadet Program has provided the city’s youth a career option for the last 35 years. Since the first class launched in 1986, 421 D.C. high school graduates have successfully completed the program.

More than 50 of them have become officers, like newly promoted Deputy Fire Chief Spencer Hamm of the Facilities and Logistics Division, who graduated from the program in 1994.

“I knew I wanted to do something in public service,” Hamm said, “and having the ability to go hands-on with the job cemented my desire to become a firefighter.”

Hamm said the program draws from all four sections of the city, each with its own unique identity.

“My class taught me to have an appreciation for our differences, and when faced with those differences, still be able to be a team, a class, and ultimately a family,” said Hamm.

Plus, it gave Hamm the kind of financial security he didn’t have growing up as the child of a single mother.

“I left the training academy with the tools I needed to help my community, as well as myself and my family,” he said.

During Bowser’s Fair Shot Budget Forums in early February, she focused on the need for job-ready programs for high school students, and the Cadet Program fit the bill.

It was developed specifically to instruct and train young residents to the operations of the DC Fire and EMS Department.

But the benefits are mutual.

“Investing in the future of the District begins with us opening the door and getting young people in here so they can begin a career,” DC Fire and EMS Chief John A. Donnelly Sr. said. “They can start creating a foundation on which they can build a path to the middle class. In return, we are a better and stronger agency, and we are better situated to serve our community.”

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