RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Wake County is paying its fire academy cadets for the first time. 

Wake County Fire Services and Emergency Management Direct Darrell Alford hopes the approximately $29,000 for 38 weeks in the academy will help ease turnover. He said 25 percent of firefighters leave in the first five years.

“It was really a big push in recruitment, and one of the barriers that we always faced was the pay,” Alford said. “Cary and Raleigh both have had paid academies as long as I could remember, but Wake County didn’t, so this really broke down one of those walls.”

Academy members are also receiving benefits. Alford said it is the largest and most diverse academy the county’s had, with 36 cadets and close to 30 percent of the group being something other than a white male.

Connor White is looking to get out in the community and likes the brotherhood and sisterhood joining a fire department provides, but he said he likely wouldn’t be in the academy right now without the pay.

“It was kind of the whole reason why I hadn’t gone to a career academy yet, having two small kids, working full time, I mean there’s not a lot of time for extra-curricular activities outside of that,” White said. “So, when they were like, hey the academy’s gonna be paid, I was like where do I sign up.”

Alford said 24 out of the 36 recruits will go to new stations in Garner and Fuquay-Varina.
Brad Pace is the academy coordinator and Wake County Fire Services Training Specialist.

“As the county continues to grow these departments have to expand and in order to expand, they have to have the manpower to put into them to be able to staff these apparatus and trucks that are going out,” Pace said.

This is also the first academy where recruits already have full-time jobs with departments lined up, another recruiting incentive.

Recruits who don’t graduate will not have to pay the salary back, according to Alford. Pace said usually about 95 percent of recruits graduate.

The money comes from American Rescue Plan funds approved by the Wake County Board of Commissioners, according to Alford.