When Jeffrey Dupoux was a teenager, his cousin introduced him to the Uniondale Fire Department where he volunteered. There, Dupoux saw how hard work and structure could mold young people into mature adults and role models. So in 2005, at age 19, Dupoux joined the Elmont Fire Department’s Hook and Ladder Company No. 2.
Dupoux was surrounded by adults who mentored and taught him about the importance of being a first responder for his community, and soon enough, he became a department staple. Now 33, he was recently named Elmont Fire Department’s third assistant chief, and at an April 27 installation ceremony, he became Elmont’s first black firefighter to earn the post.
“I’ve gone through the ranks,” Dupoux said. “I served as second lieutenant, then first, then captain, so assistant chief was the next logical step for me.”
As the Elmont Fire Department’s first black assistant chief, Dupoux represents a new era at the fire department. In the U.S., about 85 percent of all firefighters are white, according to census data, and this was also true for Elmont when Dupoux first joined. Dupoux said the Elmont Fire Department was predominately white in 2005, but over the years that he has been there, it has increasingly come to reflect the community’s diverse racial makeup.
“We’ve grown into a melting pot of the cultures here,” he said.
In its 2017 report on the cultural shifts inside the country’s volunteer fire departments, the National Volunteer Fire Council concluded that firehouses with a diverse volunteer force were more successful in recruitment than homogenous ones.
The report urged fire departments to ensure that their firehouses reflect community demographics. The report also outlined how fire departments could face waning recruitment numbers and community involvement unless residents could see people like themselves in their local fire departments.
Council officials wrote that diversity and inclusion created a “win-win situation,” which attracts both new recruits and existing volunteers, while enhancing “how volunteers treat [residents] in diverse communities and raise the reputation of the department.”
The Elmont Fire Department has worked to attract a diverse crew of firefighters. During its second open house recruitment day last fall, dozens of teenagers and young adults visited to the department’s district building to meet with volunteers and learn about all the department does for the local community. Elmont Engine No. 2 2nd Lt. Christopher Pierre said the open house was important to recruit students from Elmont Memorial and Sewanhaka high schools, who are mostly black, Hispanic and Indian.
“There’s this big misconception about the demographics in firefighting, that it’s just a white thing,” said Pierre, whose Engine No. 2 boasts a large number of Haitian-American volunteers. “But we represent everyone in our communities.”
Dupoux said brotherhood was one of the key factors in the department’s retention process. He said he enjoyed instilling in the new recruits the same volunteer and mentorship virtues that led to his own success in the department. Dupoux worked with about eight teenagers last year. While some may leave the department in a few years, Dupoux said he felt confident that each would succeed at whatever path they choose.
“Seeing the guys mature in front of our eyes, seeing how they develop, that’s the real thing you don’t forget here,” he said. “That’s what sticks out most in my time here.”