headshot of Michelle Evans
Michelle Evans

“Duty, Pride, Tradition” — Jake Pruski of Sandwich, a fire science instructor at Waubonsee, grew up with these values, so his career choice is no surprise. His father worked for the Sandwich Fire Department, the job was a good fit for his skills, and “It was just my calling,” Pruski said. “There is a lot of reward in helping people.”

Pruski’s feelings are typical among first responders. Service, above all else, is a hallmark of the profession.

In Illinois, to become a certified firefighter, students must be 18 years of age and a high school graduate. They must complete specific training where they learn both knowledge and practical skills. After training, they take a rigorous examination to become certified by the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM).

To maintain their certification and move up the ranks, career firefighters complete hundreds of hours of additional training, increasing their knowledge of special situations they may face in the line of duty. Additionally, nearly all departments require their firefighters to be certified in Emergency Medical Technician – Basic. Many firefighters are also licensed paramedics.

Waubonsee Community College’s Fire Science Technology Program is certified by the OSFM to provide the Basic Operations Firefighter certification, as well as the additional Fire Officer certifications required by departments. All courses incorporate both classroom-based knowledge and practical hands-on skills.

In fact, Waubonsee recently developed an agreement with the Oswego Fire Protection District to offer live fire training in a brand new facility at Station 3. The college will continue to offer courses out of the Montgomery and Aurora Fire Departments as well.

In addition to fire-focused knowledge and skills, a college degree can also be an asset in the field. That’s why, this fall, Waubonsee is introducing the First Responders’ Completion Cohort. Through this program, any firefighter with relevant OSFM certifications or any Illinois licensed paramedic can receive college credit for their industry credentials. The remaining general education requirements can be met by taking hybrid courses; these hybrid courses are a mix of online instruction and regular face-to-face meetings, which are designed to fit with first responders’ shift schedules.

This is just one way Waubonsee’s Fire Science Technology and Paramedic Programs continue to serve the emergency management workforce’s higher education needs. Both of these programs have business advisory committees that offer the college insight and direction. Plus, all of Waubonsee’s fire science technology courses are staffed with instructors who are active fire fighters on the rosters of area departments.

Matt Daly, an Oswego firefighter who is an instructor in Waubonsee’s Fire Science Program, concurred with Pruski. “It is an honor and privilege to be able to serve a cause bigger than one's self and to dedicate one's career to protecting their community,” he stated.

I know I speak for everyone at Waubonsee when I say that I feel honored and privileged to be able to contribute to the safety of our community through service to our community heroes.

Michelle Evans is the Assistant Dean for Health Professions and Public Service at Waubonsee.

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