Turik Hamilton will start his dream job Saturday.
He is one of 16 Atlantic City residents recently sworn in this week as part of what the mayor has called a strong recruit class of city firefighters.
Hamilton first wanted to become a member of the Atlantic City Fire Department as a kid playing basketball.
Firefighter Edward Coursey not only coached him, but he would help the kids on the team, like buying them sneakers when they couldn’t afford them, Hamilton recalled.
“I was inspired by him,” Hamilton said. “Just watching how committed he was. I wanted to be just like him.”
But Hamilton wasn’t sure that dream would ever come true.
After graduating Atlantic City High School in 2006, Hamilton didn’t even consider college.
Instead, he said he got in with the wrong crowd and made some bad choices.
But a few years ago, Hamilton realized he didn’t want to live that way anymore.
He graduated Atlantic Cape Community College in 2016, and then went to Rutgers Camden, explaining he had always been a diehard fan of the school.
The fifth of 12 children, he became the first in his family to graduate from college.
But it was still a fight to get into the fire academy.
Hamilton credits many people with helping him get there, especially Mayor Marty Small.
“He watched me grow up,” Hamilton said of the mayor. “He knew my heart.”
He says the mayor knew the bad choices Hamilton had been making weren’t truly him.
“Once he saw me make a change in my life, he was in my corner,” Hamilton said. “He put everything on the line for me.”
The 33-year-old says it was hard balancing 10 hours a day in the academy with studying and being a new father. But he was motivated by those who believed in him.
“I can’t let people like Mayor Small down,” he said.
Now, Hamilton has a new group that continues to lift him up: his firefighting family.
“They’re considered my brothers and sisters,” he said. “We’ve formed a bond that can’t be broken.”
The new class was picked from more than 500 applicants, and consists of six African-Americans, six who are white, two Latinos, one Filipino-American and one Pakistani-American. Three are women, including the fire department’s first Latina firefighter and first female Pakistani-American firefighter.
“Everyone I’ve spoken with has raved about how strong a recruit class this is,” Small said. “My administration couldn’t be prouder of these firefighters who are from Atlantic City and who represent our community’s amazing diversity. We challenge each and every one of the new firefighters to keep striving and supporting one another to be the best they can be throughout their career.”
Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said the graduation “was a defining moment in the lives of these young women and men and in the history of Atlantic City. We look forward to their positive contributions to the Atlantic City Fire Department and the city community for years to come.”
Small predicted many of the new recruits will become leaders in the department and the city.
Hamilton is hoping to be among them, paying homage to those like Coursey who inspired him.
He especially wants to show those who may have made poor choices that they can still succeed.
“I would tell them don’t let your circumstances define who you can be in the future,” Hamilton said. “If you put the time and effort in, if you put the work in, you can change your life around. When the youth see me, I want them to see hope.”