The future of firefighting

The next generation of Jefferson firefighters, including three Jefferson High School students in training this year and two recent recruits who started out when they were in high school. They are, from left, Brady Wendt, Jefferson High School senior; Bryce Wegner, 2014 Jefferson High School graduate; Nick Drew, 2017 Fort Atkinson High School graduate; Olivia Reimer, Jefferson High School senior; and Brady Lehman, Jefferson High School junior.

Brady Wendt wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. Olivia Reimer came to firefighting after she already had started Emergency Medical Technician training. And Brady Lehmann was searching for a career direction that had meaning.

These three Jefferson High School students have committed to an extensive, full-year training under the auspices of the Jefferson Fire Department, with hopes of becoming part of the next generation of firefighters.

The trio is well on its way to completing the program that has bolstered the fire department’s ranks in a time when volunteers are growing evermore sparse.

Among the others who have come through the program in recent years and who remain with the department are Bryce Wegner, a 2014 Jefferson High School graduate, and Nick Drew, a 2017 Fort Atkinson High School graduate.

The Daily Union sat down with the three trainees and the two young firefighters to see what drove them to make this commitment — and how to get others to follow their example.

“My old man has been a firefighter since I was born,” said Wendt, a high school senior. “I look up to him and he inspired me to go for it myself.”

Wendt said that the experience so far has been very rewarding.

“I really love it,” he said. “There’s nothing I’d rather do.”

Reimer, also a high school senior, said she never really expected to train as a firefighter. She did have a strong interest in emergency medicine, however, and after she entered EMT training, Wegner convinced her to try for firefighter certification, too.

“I have come to love it as well,” she said.

Reimer said she was fortunate to be able to graduate a semester early in order to focus on her dual training.

Lehman, a high school junior, said he planned to play sports at the college level but still was scouting out career possibilities after college. He’s friends with Wendt, and thought firefighting could offer a future path through which he really could make a difference.

Drew said he signed on to train as a firefighter in August 2016, the summer before his senior year.

Though he attended Fort Atkinson High School, Drew actually lives in Jefferson, and has strong connections with the local law enforcement and emergency service community through his father, (now retired) police captain Mike Drew.

Volunteering for the fire department seemed almost inevitable for Bryce Wegner, the third generation of his family to serve the local department. His grandfather served as a firefighter for 50 years, and his dad, who has been with the department for three decades, is the current chief.

Going through the rigorous firefighter training while in high school certainly takes a high level of commitment, but also it brings rewards.

Lehman said he is appreciating the up close and personal education he is getting in an essential community service.

Reimer said for her, the reward is in knowing she’ll be able to give back to the community that has done so much for her.

Bryce Wegner said being part of the fire department has given him a community connection that almost would be impossible to achieve by other means.

In the meantime, the firefighting education he received while in high school has allowed him to land a full-time job in the field, doing what he loves.

“One of the biggest payouts for me is the high level of professionalism the job demands,” Drew said. “That really sets you apart.”

Drew said his experience and training as a firefighter really helped him in his career. Right now, he works for the City of Whitewater as a wastewater treatment plant operator.

“Another reward is all the relationships you build within the department,” Lehman said. “Right now, I’m interacting with all of these guys (and women) I’d never talk to outside the department.”

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