When kids are young, the age old question that they are constantly asked is, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" For some it is a superhero, a princess, a teacher and often a firefighter. For a group of men serving in the Mid County Fire Protection District's intern program, it is time their dreams come true.
Since starting an intern program in June 2012, Mid County has welcomed 21 interns to their facility. Sixteen of those interns are currently in the program. Two have completed the program and have started their careers in the fire service.
Six new faces joined the program on Friday, Aug. 2. Ryan Brown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Bryen Kiser of Lake Ozark, Steven Smith of Killeen, Texas, Elliot Povis of St. Louis, Levi Lucas of Kansas City and Clay Hueter of Topeka, Kan. joined the ranks of the other interns.
Many heard of the program by word of mouth while others were searching on the internet and came across the opportunity.
"You get all the training and it makes you look that much tastier to a department when you are applying. I have my EMT already but that's not enough for most departments," Lucas said of the program. He, like many other interns, found this program online and could not wait to get started.
Mid County offers the program through a SAFER grant. The program offers participants housing at a Mid County station if they choose to live there, classes — such as Firefighter one and two and EMT courses, and hands-on training. They must commit to the two-year program, if it takes that long. Some get job offers before the two years are up. The program is offered at a minimal cost to the participants. The grant covers the cost of the classes and housing is free, but any personal costs such as car payments, gas, insurance, food and etc would have to be provided by the participant. The program does not pay but allows the interns to get hands on training they would not get elsewhere. Many participants choose to get a part-time job to off-set personal expenses.
Friday morning, the newest group of interns were officially welcomed to the Mid County family after a sleepless night for most.
"I'm like a little kid in a candy store. I couldn't sleep last night," Lucas said. For him, this has been a years-long journey. Lucas served in the United States Army for four and a half years. After getting out of the service, he knew he wanted to do something that was similar to his Army experience.
"This has been a couple year journey trying to get here with let downs from other departments who promise you the world, so finally getting started is nice," Lucas said. "The fire service is the only job on the civilian side that has the same brotherhood and comradarie that we had in the infantry. I've done a lot of jobs since I got out and it is the only one I have found that has that. You depend on the guy on the left and right of you to come back home. They are depending on you for the same."
Page 2 of 3 - For one intern, Bryen Kiser, it is time to see for himself what Mid County is really like. Kiser lives in Lake Ozark and volunteers for the Brumley Fire Department. He listens to the scanner and hears the Mid County calls, but now gets to be a part of it.
"It's exciting to finally become a member of it," Kiser said.
Other interns moved hours away from family and friends to start their journey to becoming a career firefighter. Steven Smith moved to the lake area from Texas, leaving his life back home behind to chase his dream.
"I'm all the way from Texas. For me it is a big risk, but if you think about it, I want to go back into the fire department, I enjoy it. Helping someone, it excites me. If that is where your heart is and if that is what you want to do, you are going to do what it takes. If that's working a part time job to go where you want your career to go, you are going to do it. Me being away from my family, I have a family here," Smith said.
Colton Rizer of Camdenton has been in the program almost a year now and welcomed the guys with open arms. Rizer said the amount of knowledge he has learned about the fire service so far, was so much that it was hard for him to put it into words. Before the intern program, Rizer had no fire experience.
"It's something I enjoy. I guess there is something about getting up early in the morning, running out the door to help someone. It changes you," he said.
When asked what advice he would give to the new guys, he quickly replied, "Take your tests on time. Do not get behind. Give it all you got. Watch each other's backs."
Every intern has his own hopes and dreams for this experience. No matter what their hope is, it is clear this program will help them reach it.
"This is a nice stepping stone and it's not even a foot in the door, this is a whole arm and leg in the door," Lucas said.
The program is open to anyone, male or female, that is interested. Mid County hopes to add two groups of intern classes each year. The SAFER grant lasts through 2015, but Sue Chatham, Recruitment and Retention Coordinator, hopes to see the program continue past the grant period. The program has added some extra cost to the fire protection district, but for the board and staff, the cost is bearable.
"The benefits of the program are out weighing those items," Chatham said.
Chatham would love to see women in the program. Mid County does have separate living quarters for women participants.
Page 3 of 3 - The new intern crew will start serving on a shift on Tuesday, August 6. They will officially be sworn in during the district's board meeting set for Thursday, August 8.
For more information, visit www.mcfpd.org.