Saving Lives, While Still in College
Alex Leininger’18 and Duncan McFadden’18 established a connection with the South Beloit (Ill.) Fire Department as first-years after chatting with officers at the fire station. “Basically, our exchange was, ‘We want training; you guys want help,’” says McFadden.
The department makes about 1,100 calls annually in a service territory of six-and-a-half square miles with a population of around 8,000 people.
Fire Department Chief Michael Davenport says the department’s firefighter training program expanded as they began to work with Beloit students.
“We offer a fire academy with the Rockton (Ill.) Fire Department and the South Beloit Fire Department together,” says Chief Davenport. “A lot of us were instructors for the state of Illinois, so we all teach different, specialized portions of the training. We benefit from the Beloit College kids, and the Rockton Fire Department is able to put some of their new people in there as well. It’s a little bit bigger of a class, so we can offer more.”
Alex Knapp’18 and Ryan Jacquemet’19 joined the crew soon after the partnership got its start, along with a couple of older students who have since moved on. Together, the four Beloiters are the remaining students from the inaugural class of the fire academy. A handful of new Beloit recruits keep joining, including four this year: Jacob Cunningham’20, Jane Hanebuth’19, Deonte Horton’17, and Brooke Popkin’21.
Much of the program’s success comes from the students’ dedication to firefighting, but careful scheduling around academic responsibilities is also key. “That’s something that the officers have emphasized: We’re at Beloit for school, not for fire,” says Leininger. “What they understand is that if we’re in class, we can’t take calls.”
Being a firefighter is clearly not easy, especially for full-time students. The physical and emotional demands are more intense than most part-time jobs. More than anything, Leininger says, being a firefighter “makes you grow up.” In fact, the initial motivation to have a cool college job has evolved into something more for Leininger specifically, who wants to become a career firefighter.
“We get to come here and we get to help people,” he says of the South Beloit fire station. “It definitely changed what I want to do in the future. I want to continue doing this simply because I get to help people.”
Meg Kulikowski’21 is a prospective literary studies and creative writing double major from Garner, N.C. With no athletic tendencies whatsoever, she guesses her chances of becoming a firefighter are slim-to-none.