BC-IL--Exchange-Student Firefighters,1st Ld-Writethru/787
EXCHANGE: Class helps prepare student for firefighting
HANNAH PROKOP, The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald
This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald.
WOODSTOCK, Ill. (AP) — About seven years ago, Woodstock Fire Rescue District Chief Ralph Webster said he was seeing an influx of men and women who wanted to be firefighters and high school graduates trying to go into the field without any experience.
A program created through the Woodstock district has changed that, and it allows students to become Illinois-licensed emergency medical technicians and earn college credits from McHenry County College by the time they graduate high school.
The class meets five mornings a week at Woodstock Fire and Rescue Station 3, 2900 Raffel Road, said Scott Wessel, a Woodstock firefighter/paramedic and the class instructor.
High school seniors are able to fit the class into their schedules, and it also is open to people not in high school with no experience, he said.
For Wessel, who's been with the Woodstock fire district for about nine years, the goal of the class isn't to teach students how to fight fires - it's to teach them how to be firefighters.
"To have a focus on character development is what it really comes down to," Wessel said.
Wessel said public servants are held to higher standards and expectations than residents, and they must conduct themselves appropriately on and off duty.
Some of those lessons come through working at the fire station and partaking in everyday activities, such as doing maintenance around the station, cleaning and studying, Wessel said.
"We have high expectations of the new guy, and they have to prove that they're deserving of being there," Wessel said.
The field also has become more competitive throughout the years, Webster said, and most departments require potential employees to be certified as a firefighter and some level of EMT.
People who enter the program can start as a Tier 1 Recruit, and move their way up through courses offered at MCC to become a certified Illinois basic operations firefighter and Illinois-licensed paramedic.
Webster said Wessel helped redefine the program a few years ago from being a firefighter cadet program to more of an emergency services class.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Jagman now is in paramedic school as an apprentice at MCC, and he took the EMT class at the Woodstock fire station his senior year of high school.
He heard about the class from his high school counselor, Jagman said, and once he took it, he said he found out that being a firefighter was everything he wanted it to be.
"You get a whole variety of experiences every day," Jagman said. "You can go on 10 calls, and none of them will be exactly the same."
He said becoming a licensed EMT in high school gave him a head start into his career.
"It's an amazing program," Jagman said. "As long as you put in the work that it requires, you definitely get what you put into it."
Jagman said the class also is helpful because students get more than just "book knowledge."
Actually being in the fire station allows students to interact with the firefighters and have access to equipment.
Not everyone who takes the class wants to be a firefighter, however.
Flor Hernandez, an 18-year-old senior at Woodstock High School, is finishing up her first semester at the fire station, which focuses on becoming an Illinois-certified emergency medical responder and offers an introduction to fire science.
Hernandez said she took the class to improve her skills to move on in the medical field.
Students go on ride-alongs as part of the class, where they go out on calls with other firefighters. On Hernandez's first morning out, she said she responded to a call for a serious vehicle crash.
"For me, it was a great learning experience because I got to see everything that I learned in class put to work," Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who hopes to be a doctor someday, said she observed everything on her ride-along.
"It was a lot more intense than I thought it would be, but I found it amazing how composed (the first responders) were, how calm they were and how professional they were, also," Hernandez said.
Webster said they place about 10 people who take the class every year into some type of position, either with the Woodstock fire department or another organization.
"We feel like that real-life experience has value while they're going through a training program," Webster said. "It gives them an opportunity to see what the job is really like, and it gives us an opportunity to see them perform in real-life situations."
Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, http://bit.ly/1Oluf0m
Information from: The Northwest Herald, http://www.nwherald.com
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