Champaign Man Fulfills Dream of Becoming a Firefighter with Help from the RPC’s Workforce Development Program

Joseph Wilson of the Champaign Fire Department

A Champaign man has fulfilled his dream of becoming a firefighter thanks in part to help from the RPC’s Workforce Development program. Joseph Wilson completed a program called Adult Explorers, in which the Champaign Fire Department teamed with the RPC to increase diversity within the City of Champaign’s entry-level firefighter pool of applicants. Wilson recently reached the top of the list and is now officially a firefighter.

Adult Explorers was originally facilitated by Dorval Norwood, the former Deputy Chief of Administration and Logistics with the Champaign Fire Department. Its goal was to increase diversity on the firefighter eligibility list. The four-month program conducted in 2018 and again in 2020 required 100% attendance and participants who successfully completed it were awarded preference points toward the firefighter’s eligibility list. This is significant since preference points assist applicants achieve higher placement on the eligibility list.

“Collaboration with outside agencies, citizens within our community, and resources to obtain common goals is the trademark of the City of Champaign,” says Tyler Funk, Deputy Chief of Support for the Champaign Fire Department. “Ingenuity is the cornerstone of progress, and the City’s objectives are to create an economic opportunity with goals to attract, retain, and grow a diverse community workforce. Adult Explorers directed that effort.”

Designed to educate, mentor, and inform participants on the fire service career and to increase their success of being placed on the eligibility list, Adult Explorers required applicants to be City of Champaign residents, to be referred by the RPC’s Workforce Development program, to have a high school diploma or equivalency, and to be at least 19- and less than 35-years-old. Program topics included a firefighter’s schedule, salary, benefits, functions, equipment, application process, preparation, and recommendations for training for the Candidate Physical Abilities Test.

Along with prescreening all applicants and referring them to Adult Explorers, the RPC created math and reading testing in preparation for written exams, conducted mock job interviews with the applicants, and provided Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) training and supportive service assistance and opportunities for applicants who were eligible.

“I remember the day Mr. Norwood walked into the workNet Center looking for space for an upcoming training for staff. It was during that conversation that he mentioned the goals of the Champaign Fire Department as it relates to their pool of candidates,” says Toriana Rhone, a Program Manager at East Central Illinois workNet. “I took that opportunity to really focus on the services we have to offer and how we could help. That is when our amazing partnership with the Champaign Fire Department began.”

Over the next few months, Rhone and the Champaign Fire Department held countless meetings and conversations, and shortly thereafter the first Adult Explorers Program was underway.

“Joseph Wilson was one of our first candidates and from the very beginning he excelled,” Rhone explains. “Upon completion of the program and taking the test, he made it on the eligibility list. It was an exciting day! I am so happy to see that he has now been called and is an official firefighter. He can fulfill his calling of helping others.” Assisting the Champaign Fire Department and the RPC on Adult Explorers were the Fire Department’s Recruitment Team and Human Resources Department, along with other partner programs of the East Central Illinois workNet Center. They all worked together to assist applicants in their job searches and to disseminate information.

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