Finding tomorrow’s firefighters is a never-ending job, according to the head of the state’s fire academy. Richard Jaehne, director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says the turnover can be high when people in the business become family men. “You’ve got lots of obligations and responsibilities, so we end up replacing a lot of people, up to 20 or 25 percent each year,” he said.
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Instilling firefighting know-how is not the only mission of the “Hands-On Training School” the institute runs for 15- to 21-year-olds. Jaehne says it’s really about training people to be good citizens who know the value of public service and public safety. The people in the four-day course, now in its 10th year, may turn out to be the mayors and teachers of tomorrow, not just firefighters. The school, and one-day youth skills training events around the state, benefit from a $65,000 state grant.
The job of firefighter has changed “with the introduction of Class B or oil-based furniture and lightweight construction and so on,” Jaehne says. And the demands are growing so much that medical calls far outnumber fires. There are plenty of runs to car crashes, and that is another set of complications. “You go to a car today, it’s a loaded explosive event,” he said, referring to the number of air bags and electrical gear inside, particularly in hybrids.