MINNEAPOLIS - The Minneapolis Fire Department has focused its attention on diversity for decades. And this year, the face of the department continues to change.

Nineteen people are in the cadet class of 2018. Nearly 50-percent are minorities. The other half, veterans.

But that's not all. Up until 2015, Chief John Frutel said the department had only hired one female firefighter in the past decade. This year, they've hired three. Chief Frutel said recruiting women is a challenge.

“We want our department to truly represent the community it serves,” he said. “I'm sure they (women) feel there is some additional pressure because they come into a male-dominated career field.”

But the three female cadets are ready to fight fires with grace and courage.

Yulonda Hayes, 35, said she never considered fighting fires as a career until she attended a community event with firefighters.

“Being a firefighter as a young girl is not a career path that is always explored. After I found out more information and learned this is something I can do I just decided to go for it,” she said. “I hope to put careers like this on the map for young girls.”

By contrast, Chelsea Lyons, 28, said civic service is in her DNA. She comes from a family of police officers and firefighters. Lyons laughs when sharing the story of her dreams to become an astronaut as a young girl.

“I’m terrible at math but I still wanted to help people,” she said.

The youngest of the three, Mallory Cramer, 26, said when she graduated from college she knew she “didn’t want to sit behind a desk.”

Both Lyons and Cramer participated in the Emergency Medical Services Pathways Academy. Also called EMS Pathways for short. Student Internship Program is helping the Minneapolis Fire Department and Hennepin EMS workforce to better reflect the community they serve. The first class of graduates included 91% people of color and was over 50% female.

The women and the others in the class graduate in June. Chief Frutel is confident all 19 cadets will complete the training.

"They made it through a tough process. They are qualified," he said. "I know that this group is going to be an exceptional bunch of employees."