Beloiter firefighters pose at the South Beloit Fire Station. Clockwise from bottom left: Eben Crawford'17, Alex Leininger'18, Duncan McFadden'18, Alex Knapp'18, Nico Hamacher, and Ryan Jacquemet'19.
How often can you say that you know a college student who also happens to be a firefighter? A few of Beloit’s own have become part-time, paid firefighters in the state of Illinois, thanks to Alex Leininger’18 and Duncan McFadden’18.
Leininger and McFadden connected with the South Beloit Fire Department in their freshman year and after chatting with some of the officers there, the two decided they wanted to receive training from the department. “Basically, our exchange was, ‘We want training; you guys want help,’” says McFadden. “We figured the more people we brought in—the station’s short-manned as it is—that could help the station a lot, even if they’re just recruit level. That’s extra sets of hands. While doing that, students get experience and eventually become firefighters in the state of Illinois.”
The students were able to take advantage of the fire academy training program, a partnership the station has with Rockton Fire Department, which expanded to include them.
“We offer a fire academy with the Rockton Fire Department and the South Beloit Fire Department together,” says Chief Michael Davenport. “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 soon thereafter, along with a couple older students who have since moved on from Beloit. Together, the four Beloiters are the remaining students from the first class of the fire academy. There has been a handful of new recruits every year since, including four this year: Jacob Cunningham’20, Jane Hanebuth’19, Deonte Horton’17, and Brooke Popkin’21.
Much of the success of this program is thanks to the dedication of the students, but scheduling plays a major role as well. Understanding professors and careful planning between the students and the fire department keeps students coming back. “That’s something that the officers down here have emphasized:we’re at Beloit for school, not for fire,” says Leininger. “If we’re in class, we can’t take calls.”
The physical and emotional fitness required for the job can’t be understated. “We see people on the best of days, when we’re celebrating their 90th birthday and we take them out for an engine ride,” says Jacquemet. “And we see people on the worst of days, when they’ve lost a loved one, when we’re taking them to the hospital, when they lose their entire house. It takes a little different mentality to deal with that type of stuff.” Seeing this side of the communities surrounding Beloit College tested Jacquemet, Knapp, Leininger, and McFadden, sometimes pushing them to their limits. More than anything, according to Leininger, “It makes you grow up.”
At the end of the day, the rest of the fire department supports these Beloiters when they get back to the firehouse.
“They’re dedicated, they’re fun to be around,” says Chief Davenport. “The guys just love them when they’re here because they’re not afraid to jump in and help. I commend them because of what they’re doing and what they’re doing for us.”
Being firefighters has forever changed these four students. While the initial motivation was to have a cool college job evolved into something more. It’s because of this program that Leininger wants to become a career firefighter.
“We get to come down here and we get to help people,” he says. “It definitely changed what I want to do in the future--I want to continue doing this simply because I get to help people.”