TAMPA, Fla (WFLA) – Firefighters are desperately needed across Tampa Bay – and at Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, they are focusing on diversity hires.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue not only fights fires but also provides emergency medical services throughout unincorporated Hillsborough County.

“It’s an honor to serve this community,” said Fire Chief Dennis Jones. “Hillsborough County Fire Rescue is the best in the state.”

HCFR currently maintains 43 fire stations. Jones hopes to add to that.

“We would like to have 20 more, which will help with response times and make sure we can help our citizens in a timely manner,” Jones said.

Right now, the department has a class of 24 certified firefighters who will officially become a part of the department next week.

“That first call – just getting out, getting my gear, hopping out like I’m here to save you,” Amber Brooks said. “My passion is to be out helping others.”

Brooks is a part of the 2022 class of new firefighters. She was a collegiate athlete who took a desk job after graduation, but did not like it at all.

Brooks joined the fire academy in 2019 and became certified in 2021. Shortly after that, she became an EMT and, in a week, she will be firefighter with HCFR.

“Being an African-American female, I would like to show others that it can be done with hard work and dedication,” Brooks said.

HCFR still has to hire another round of 40 employees. They’re focused on diversifying the force.

“One of the ultimate goals of the fire chief is to create a department that’s well-diversified and that looks like our community,“ Kenneth Forward said.

Forward is the training chief for the department. He sees every newbie that comes in.

“It’s so great to see everyone doing the job that I’ve loved to do for so many years,” Forward said.

To join, one has to complete 429 hours at a fire academy to become a certified firefighter. HCFR has an academy at their facility. One is also required to be an EMT. After that, applications for any Florida fire rescue can be submitted.

All this week, the News Channel 8 Today team is showcasing industries experiencing worker shortages. Deanne King visited the fire rescue training division and trained with the 2022 class of firefighters.