Section: Features

Who you gonna call? Kenyon volunteer firefighters

Who you gonna call? Kenyon volunteer firefighters

by Cora Markowitz

“When I was like seven, I thought it would be really cool to be a firefighter,” student firefighter Katja Shimkin ’17 said. “And it was just never something I thought of after that, so I had completely forgotten about it until I saw the information pamphlets they put out. I went to the first day of training and I just kept coming back.”

Shimkin is one of 13 student firefighters who volunteer with the College Township Fire Department.

As volunteer firefighters, the students are responsible for responding to 9-1-1 calls that are made in the local area. “It’s funny because a lot of people don’t know what’s going on,” Shimkin said in reference to how students respond when they see her and her fellow firefighters running to report for duty. “[Just] the number of ‘Run, Forrest, run!’s I’ve gotten. You just have to find it funny.”

“The impression I get is that other students think we only take [calls] to campus, and that’s completely not true,” Shimkin said. “We actually have a pretty big territory — all the way up to Fredericktown — and primarily our runs are old people or car crashes.” “Runs” refer to when the firefighters respond to emergency reports.

Lieutenant Will Lindberg ’13 recalled one of his favorite runs, which happened last year over Christmas break. There was a fire in a nearby home. A couple of dogs had already been retrieved, according to Lindberg, but “we ended up finding one other dog that hadn’t been brought out of the building already, a little puppy.” He continued: “All their pets survived, which easily could have gone another way.”

The firefighters are a self-selecting group, drawn to their work for reasons that may be hard to understand for students who can’t imagine exchanging a night run to Papa John’s for a night run to tend to a car crash on the highway.

Walker Mees ’17 became involved with the fire department at the beginning of his first year, though he hadn’t planned on joining.

“I hadn’t really thought about it before I came here,” Mees said. “Then I saw a flyer for it, and also Colin McMahon [’15], who was a junior on the lacrosse team when I was a freshman, was on it, so I talked to him a little bit and then I started the recruit process and sort of fell in love with it.”

Because training is such a large time commitment, the firefighters have to figure out a balance between their schoolwork and their training. But because calls can come at any moment, students have to accept that volunteering will often take up their free time as well.

Sara Thomas-Martinez ’15, who serves as co-president and the Kenyon liaison for the firefighters, said, “You definitely have to make sacrifices. You have to prioritize things.    We always say we are students first.”

Her co-president Hardy Evans ’15 added, “Honestly, I think my grades have gotten a lot better since I came down here. I’ve become more responsible and disciplined. It’s hard to do, but it’s worth it.”

“I get woken up at three in the morning all the time,” Shimkin said. “My roommate hates me. But you just get up and go. It happens all the time. I’ll be eating with someone, or I’ll be watching a movie or something, and it goes off, and your friends are cool with it; they’re not going to hate you for that. They know, tones drop, I gotta go.”

The firefighters split into three different unit days with four people in each group, according to Mees, and firefighters are required to respond to their pagers whenever they are on duty. If it is not their scheduled day to work, however, they can respond to the call if they wish.

This means that the firefighters spend a lot of time with each other — they live together in either Farr Hall or in the Wilson Apartments, go on calls together and train together. The firefighters’ training, which includes anything from simulating their responses to emergency phone calls to sparring, is designed to keep the firefighters ready for whatever might be thrown their way.

“They’re some of my best friends on campus,” Mees said. “It’s like a different kind of bond. It’s almost like a fraternity but without alcohol.”

Despite how firefighting may seem to other students, Mees believes it’s worth the commitment.

“A lot of times when people call 9-1-1, they’re at their worst and we have to be at our best,” Mees said. “So it’s hard seeing people in pain or having a bad day, but at the end, if we’re able to help them, that makes it all worth it.”


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