PS419: Ohio program takes a homegrown approach to public safety recruitment

A three-year program teaches Toledo high schoolers about careers in public safety


The 2021/2022 academic year at Ohio’s Toledo Public Schools (TPS) began much the same as any other year, with one notable exception – an innovative new career tech program in public safety was introduced.

Like so many others across the nation, the city of Toledo’s fire and police departments have been plagued by staffing shortages and a lack of new recruits. Addressing this issue required some creative problem-solving, and fortunately, TPS had a solution. The district decided to transition its existing EMT program into one that covers a range of public safety career opportunities.

Origins of the program

Row 1: Jill Hoffman (TFRD), Emily Lewandowski, David Greskey, Mackenzie Strunk, Malenie Moreno, TFRD Deputy Chief Daniel Brown-Martinez, Andre Tiggs (PS419 instructor); Row 2: Ricky Urbian, Joseph Miller, Savona Olvera, Empress Hughley-Harris
Row 1: Jill Hoffman (TFRD), Emily Lewandowski, David Greskey, Mackenzie Strunk, Malenie Moreno, TFRD Deputy Chief Daniel Brown-Martinez, Andre Tiggs (PS419 instructor); Row 2: Ricky Urbian, Joseph Miller, Savona Olvera, Empress Hughley-Harris (Photo/PS419)

PS419 is a reinvigorated and expanded version of the school EMT-B cohort program introduced in 2013. This earlier program was the brainchild of Councilwoman Doctor Cecelia Adams and Toledo Fire Lieutenant Daniel Brown-Martinez (now deputy chief), who wanted to support TPS students interested in pursuing careers in emergency medicine.

Not long after the EMT-B cohort program began, Toledo Fire and Rescue Department (TFRD) and Toledo Police Department (TPD) leadership and other community leaders expressed their interest in broadening the scope of the program. Amid recruiting challenges, their desire was “to more fairly hire from within the community and more accurately represent the demographics of whom they serve,” says Deputy Chief Brown-Martinez, who now serves as PS419 lead partner. “TPS students were identified as one of the hidden gems of potential applicants.”  

In 2018, with the support of Toledo Fire Chief Brian Byrd and his administration, the EMT-B cohort program was refined and redeveloped to include the interests of all public safety careers. Byrd and other local leaders believed that with the right mentorship and support, an influx of highly capable young adults who grew up in the area and who are invested in the community would be ready to join the department after high school graduation.

“We’re a community service agency,” Byrd told WTVG in 2021. “If we can’t relate to the people, you either have to have the ability to learn how to relate and/or bring that to the table when you come.”

Getting off the ground with the right instructor

Many former police and fire personnel were considered for the PS419 instructor position. It was important for candidates to have the perfect balance of both hard and soft skills required for the job. “An engaging personality and commitment to [the] program [are] critical to ensuring its success through the challenges encountered by all new career tech programs,” Brown-Martinez says.

Ultimately, Instructor Andre Tiggs was selected as a good fit based on his unique qualifications and years of experience. Tiggs is a newly retired Toledo Firefighter and Police Arson Investigator, as well as a TPS graduate who continues his education at Owens Community College and the University of Toledo. Tiggs’ overlapping experience in both departments was a win, and his passion for the students and the program is unmatched, making him the right person for the job, Brown-Martinez explains.

Program participant Abriel Garcia stands with Andre Tiggs (PS419 instructor) and former TFRD Fire Chief Brian Byrd.
Program participant Abriel Garcia stands with Andre Tiggs (PS419 instructor) and former TFRD Fire Chief Brian Byrd. (Photo/PS419)

Recruiting and enrolling students

As for promoting and increasing interest in the program, TPS has a recruitment process in place with the support of the TFRD, TPD and TPS Career Development Coordinator Jose Rosales.

Instructor Tiggs also attends high school sporting events to inform parents of the program. Additional recruitment efforts, according to Cassandra Seimet, career technology supervisor and PS419 program supervisor, include TPS’s in-school program tours and its Career Connect Expo, both of which expose and recruit students to the program.

In its first year, PS419 enrolled approximately 40 students. The program’s gender ratio was 60% male and 40% female, with many minority groups represented.

PS419 program curricula

The three-year program allows sophomore students to begin to explore a public safety career by enrolling in “Foundations of Firefighting and Emergency Medical Services.” The year-long introductory course addresses the basics of careers in the fire service and emergency medicine.  

During their junior and senior years, students can participate in four public safety courses and one capstone course. The curriculum includes the following:

  • Semester 1, Junior Year – “The American Criminal Justice System”: This first course in the criminal justice pathway traces the history, organization, and functions of local, state and federal law enforcement.
  • Semester 2, Junior Year – “Police Work and Practice in Public Safety”: Students will learn the skills necessary to prevent, detect and react to crime.
  • Semester 1, Senior Year – “The Correctional System and Services”: Students will learn institutional rehabilitation and community corrections strategies that prepare them for work in a correctional setting.
  • Semester 2, Senior Year – “Capstone Course”: Students explore firefighting or law enforcement in more depth, depending on their preference.
Joseph Miller and Emily Lewandowski don PPE.
Joseph Miller and Emily Lewandowski don PPE. (Photo/PS419)

Through Ohio’s College Credit Plus program, PS419 students can earn high school and college credits at the same time by taking courses from Owens Community College. They can pursue degrees or certifications in the following public safety fields:

  • EMT-Basic, EMT-Intermediate and EMT-Paramedic
  • Emergency Services Technology
  • Firefighter I and II
  • Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement

Depending on their chosen career path or course of study, students can attend courses on the college campus or at their high school.

Post-graduation options

If students choose a career in firefighting, they can take a test with the City of Toledo and begin their TFRD careers at age 18.  

Students who go into law enforcement can enroll at Owens Community College to take additional criminal justice courses until they are 21 years of age. They are then eligible to apply with TPD.

Going above and beyond

The PS419 program includes a variety of interactive extracurricular activities to supplement the required coursework. Some of the guest speaker and field trip offerings:

  • TPD Canine Unit
  • TFRD EMS
  • TPD Police Athletic League (PAL)
  • TPD Station 4
  • SWAT Team
  • TFRD Chief Brian Byrd
  • Retired Ohio Liquor Control Agent Earl Mark
  • Sergeant Laurie Renz (TPD), Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) – criminal investigations, forensics, evidence collections, documentation and fingerprinting
  • Retired Detective Andre Cowell (TPD) – homicide investigations
  • Lt. James Trevino (TFRD) – arson investigations
  • Assistant Deputy Safety Director Angel Tucker – PS419 program tours and information
  • Detective Jeff Dorner – criminal investigations
  • Owens Community College Public Safety Expo field trip
  • Toledo Walleye ice hockey game field trip
Empress Hughley-Harris dons PPE.
Empress Hughley-Harris dons PPE. (Photo/PS419)

One-on-one mentoring

Both TFRD and TPD are participating in the mentorship program. Students are paired with mentors who match their interests and desired career paths. Currently, all mentors are volunteers who have chosen to participate because they believe in the students and the program.

Seimet explains that because the scheduled mentoring sessions did not always coordinate with the mentors’ schedules, TPS created drop-in mentoring whereby mentors visit the schools at their convenience. TPS staff also encourage both mentees and mentors to reach out to each other regularly.

First-year outcomes

This year, three eligible seniors applied for and took TFRD’s initial examination. One student moved on to the next stage in the hiring process. The other two are maintaining their relationship with the recruitment team and could test at the next opportunity.

Seimet adds that four seniors have earned the CPR credential, and the program is currently working to get the juniors credentialed. In addition, a few seniors are looking into 911 dispatch, while the juniors continue to explore options in both fire and police. 

Of the program’s success so far, “The combined efforts of all parties involved led to its current success,” Deputy Chief Brown-Martinez says. “We fully anticipate enrollment to increase as the program graduates are hired by the invested departments.”

Although the first 3 to 5 years of career tech programs are usually the most challenging, Brown-Martinez remains optimistic and rightfully so. He knows that these early years are also when such programs establish their roots and make their most significant growth.

For more information about the PS419 program, contact Toledo Public Schools.

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