Fighting fires is just one more commitment for the 20 full-time students that volunteer for the Vermillion Fire Department.
Vermillion EMS deputy chief Matt Callahan said the volunteers bring a new atmosphere to the department.
“They’re a younger generation of people, so I think it helps with that, helps with the diversity of the department,” he said. “It also helps us understand the college life by having them on the department.”
Junior Abbey Cerny, who’s also trained in emergency medical services, joined the department a year ago. She said she joined to challenge the negative misconceptions people have towards college students.
“College students kind of have this stereotype that they’re a nuisance to the community,” she said. “So, I figured, I’m here for four years — instead of being seen from the community as a nuisance, I want to put back into the community.”
Dani Portz, a senior volunteer in EMS and firefighting, joined the department in February of last year after previously being in EMS.
“I saw through that what a lot of the fire guys got to do and I hated showing up on an ambulance call and having to watch them do stuff and you feel helpless,” she said. “I decided to get trained on both sides of the department.”
Portz said the first part of firefighter training begins with a probation period.
“You are given a book to kind of guide your training and your orientation,” she said. “You have to get signed off on all that minimum criteria and then you get voted on.”
The department has training nights every Wednesday, where they learn new skills and also stay up-to-date on older skills.
“It kind of just gives you a little tidbit of everything in the department so you can get oriented,” Cerny said. “There’s weekly trainings that we do where we’ll take a tool and go more in-depth with it or set up scenarios and work on different things. The six months of training plus the weekly stuff really gives you a well-rounded idea of what goes on there.”
The training period takes a lot of work, Cerny said.
“Training isn’t easy,” she said. “It’s definitely exercise. It’s a lot of physical work and so one of the challenges is we do a lot of training, partially so that we get that physical exercise. It does take up some time.”
Portz said it can be difficult to juggle her responsibilities.
“Someone’s always going to be unhappy,” she said. “My professors are not very understanding that when the pager goes off, it’s my duty to help that person who’s having an emergency, so there’s times when I take point deductions.”
There’s a balancing act Cerny said she goes through as well.
“I’ve definitely blocked out Wednesdays as firefighting days because those are the days we have training,” she said. “It’s really trying to go to as many calls as I can. Blocking out time for training and trying my best to get to calls. When you go out on a call, you don’t know if you’ll be there for a half hour or six hours.”
Portz said being a volunteer is a “sacrifice.”
“It has the potential to create conflict in your family,” she said. “It’s important that your family and friends understand that. Because I am EMS, I’m on call every Friday night. I don’t go downtown every Friday night like everyone else — I’m the person who, when those people get really intoxicated, I’m there to help them out. It makes you be a little more mature and grow up quicker.”
An important duty
Cerny said the work she does in her volunteer role makes her feel valuable to the community.
“We show up at the worst times for anybody, whether it’s a car accident or a house fire, we are there during people’s worst times,” she said. “I think it’s important to support each other in the community. That’s something the fire department does and I enjoy being a part of that.”
Portz said it’s important to establish her presence in the community as a volunteer.
“When I first came here in college, I feel a lot of students can relate, really, your community is just the university — it doesn’t expand to the city,” she said. “Now that I’ve gotten to know a lot of the firefighters, I consider Vermillion my actual home.”
Cerny said she plans on staying with the department until she graduates.
“I’ve definitely learned something that doesn’t necessarily pertain to what I’m going into in life, so I kind of like being well-rounded,” she said.
Portz said being a volunteer is “very humbling and rewarding.”
“I plan to continue EMS. Fire and EMS go hand-in-hand, so I definitely see a future with both sides of those,” she said. “I think a huge part of my life definitely would be missing if I were to stop.”