“Need a challenging job that can help finance your college education? Join our team and protect and serve the community while building skills for the future,” reads the flyer advertising the City of Auburn’s Student Firefighter Program. The program is available to all high school graduates planning to attend college.
The City of Auburn offers its Student Firefighter Program every year, with details available on its website.
Most professionals within the Auburn Fire Division began their careers through the Student Firefighter Program, according to AFD. The program not only offers a way to graduate from college debt-free while getting paid, it additionally offers a career path with opportunities for upward mobility.
In order to be eligible for the City of Auburn’s Student Firefighter Program and its benefits, applicants must pass a physical ability test and interview. Those selected will attend the 17-week recruit-training academy.
During training, individuals will obtain their Firefighter I and II certifications as well as Emergency Medical Technician-Basic certification. Upon completing their training at the academy, individuals are certified professional firefighters. They will then be assigned to a fire company or station based on their success in Fire School and the need of departments within the area.
A week in the life of a student firefighter means a 24-hour work day followed by 48 hours off, repeating throughout the week. As students, time off for class is allocated during the shift.
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Student firefighters are required to be full-time students taking at least 12 hours of credit per semester. They must also maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average in order to earn tuition reimbursement for up to six years of schooling.
Along with reimbursement of tuition, student firefighters are also paid employees of the City of Auburn. These Firefighters earn anywhere from $7.91–$8.82 per hour, increasing with each year of service. If housing is needed, the AFD can provide a dormitory for student firefighters at the fire station.
Simms Kaak is currently a senior in finance at Auburn University and has been a student firefighter for the last five years. As a junior in high school, Kaak watched his senior friends go through the interview process, fire school and then eventually become certified firefighters. He was inspired to do the same after his high school graduation from Auburn High School in 2015.
Kaak explained how incredible the people he works with are. The life of a firefighter is riddled with ups and downs such as strenuous physical demands, humility that comes with routine response to tragedy as well as the building of lifelong relationships through the satisfaction of a job well done. In the lives of these men and women, a support system is everything.
“I think the biggest support through it all has been the guys I’ve worked with, knowing that a lot of them are also students,” Kaak explained. “Yeah, obviously, my family has supported me, but it makes it so much easier when there’s other guys that are also doing the same thing, and they’re going through school. They’re doing this, they may even be working a second job. Everybody is kind of on the same page, and that that’s probably the biggest support there is actually.”
Firefighters see tragedy on the job. Kaak believes the timing of these events to be the hardest part of his job.
“I think the most difficult part of the job has to do with timing,” Kaak said. “Obviously, dealing with tragedy is difficult, but it’s usually ... at the worst timing ever, whether it’s where you are in your life or ... where you are during the day.”
Kaak said that dealing with the tragedies he experiences on the job has become part of his life now. Amongst the difficult aspects of the job, he spoke of the peace from knowing he has done something within the tragedy. He described confrontations with these events as “humbling.”
“You could be having the best day at work, and then have a really bad car wreck, but it’s humbling at the same time,” Kaak said. “That’s the only thing I would say is difficult to deal with, but the people you’re surrounded with and the resources you have available makes it so much easier.”
To Kaak, the rewarding aspects of his job are not getting to put out fires or carrying someone out of a burning building, although those responsibilities are his as a professional firefighter. He is most fulfilled in uniform when he is able to assist with tragedies that seem meaningless to an outsider but mean everything to the one in need.
“To me, it’s the smaller-scale stuff that you don’t think of so much, but you realize how much whoever you’re helping really appreciates you,” Kaak said. “It’s not so much the bad car wrecks and you get the person out. That’s not as rewarding to me as someone whose mom fell down. I know that sounds crazy, but sometimes it’s the little-bit smaller stuff as simple as an elderly person falling down that we just come to help pick back up. There’s just something more rewarding about helping someone who really needs it and that can’t help it.”
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