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Firefighting Career Pathway Now Available to Luxemburg-Casco High School Students Through Kewaunee County Junior Firefighter Program

A new educational pathway – designed for students interested in a career as a firefighter – is wrapping up its first year at Luxemburg-Casco High School. Three L-C students took part during the 2023-24 school year, and more are expected to join the program in the fall.

The Kewaunee County Junior Firefighter Program – a partnership between the Luxemburg-Casco, Algoma, Denmark and Kewaunee school districts, along with eight area fire departments – began with an exploratory session for students in April 2023.

The Luxemburg-Casco School District has partnered with area fire departments to provide its students interested in a career as a firefighter with hands-on experience through the Kewaunee County Junior Firefighter Program. Left to Right: L-C student Mathew Zellner, Luxemburg Fire Chief Lew Du Chateau, L-C student Jacob Blasier, New Franken Fire Chief Ryan DeBroux,  L-C student Jett Granese-Bries, Casco Fire Chief Bruce DePeau. 

“We see this program as a great way for students to explore a potential career in firefighting while gaining post-secondary credits and real-world experience,” says Mike Snowberry, director of learning services for the Luxemburg-Casco School District. “We have received tremendous support from area fire departments, who are all-in to work with our students.”

Three Luxemburg-Casco students this year began coursework towards Firefighter 1 certification through Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) during the first-hour block of their day. Taught by NWTC instructors, students earn both high school and college credits while learning the basics of firefighting.

The three courses required to receive the certification are: Entry Level Firefighter, which focuses on providing the information needed to comply with fire-training requirements in Wisconsin; Firefighter 1, which completes all Level 1 firefighter objectives as identified by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); and Hazardous Material Operations, which prepares students to perform minimum hazardous material incident operations associated with firefighting functions.

Mathew Zellner, who is one of the three L-C students currently following the firefighter career pathway, completed the course requirements for Firefighter 1 Certification earlier this month. He took Entry Level Fighter the first three months of 2024, followed by Hazardous Material Operations and Firefighter 1.

Zellner now is a Junior Firefighter with the Luxemburg Community Fire Department. A volunteer position, he receives hands-on opportunities to learn the skills used in firefighting, actively participates in department trainings and meetings, and when the tone goes off Zellner responds to calls.

“It has been a lot of learning for me,” says Zellner. “I get to respond to calls in full gear, and can help out on the scene. But, being under 18 (years old), I am restricted in what I can do.”

The Junior Firefighters (in yellow helmets) assist another Luxemburg firefighter with a hand line on a fire call.

Junior Firefighters are expected to respond to emergency calls and operate under the supervision of Senior Firefighters. Strict laws exist to protect minors from the most hazardous dangers; for example, Junior Firefighters will never enter a burning building or operate on top of a roof. The work performed by Junior Firefighters frees up qualified Senior Firefighters to execute other crucial tasks.

Junior Firefighters must be at least 16 years old, but not older than 19 years old. They must be able to follow directions under stressful conditions, and should be in good physical condition to perform essential fire ground tasks.

“The Junior Firefighter Program is working very well,” says Lew Du Chateau, Luxemburg Fire Chief since 2001. “The students are helping out where we need them. It’s been a win-win for the students and for us. I can tell you, locally and statewide, volunteer fire departments are becoming shorthanded as far as required and needed firefighters.

“It gives the students the opportunity to be servants to their communities, along with exploring a potential career. They are trained as a firefighter, which is something they can use in any community in the years ahead.”

Participating students are supported by the fire department with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and uniforms.

The Kewaunee County Junior Firefighter Program – which supports the fire departments of Algoma, Carlton, Casco, Denmark, Kewaunee, Luxemburg, New Franken and Tisch Mills – was one of four grant winners of the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS). The grant of $24,525 will be utilized to purchase full PPE for use by students.

PPE is extremely expensive, according to Du Chateau, often costing more than $3,000 for a coat and pants for a single firefighter. Typically fitted, Luxemburg will be purchasing generic sets of gear, knowing that it will be passed down and reused.

Those who choose firefighting as a career perform a wide variety of duties. Among these are driving fire apparatus and other emergency vehicles; putting out fires using water hoses, fire extinguishers and water pumps; finding and rescuing victims in burning buildings or in other emergency situations; treating sick or injured people; conducting drills to be prepared for any type of emergency incident; preparing written reports on emergency incidents; cleaning and maintaining equipment; and physical-fitness training.

Employment of firefighters is projected to grow at a rate of 4 percent from 2022-32, according to My Future™, a website developed by the U.S. Department of Defense where young adults can find detailed information on more than 900 civilian and military career fields. It projects roughly 26,4000 job openings for firefighters annually, on average, over the course of the decade.

According to My Future™, a career as a firefighter appeals to those who enjoy high levels of responsibility, decision-making and competition, along with a medium level of physical activity.

Zellner, a junior at L-C High School who actually leaves school when a call comes in, has learned quite a bit from the opportunity

L-C students (L-R) Mathew Zellner, Jacob Blasier and Jett Granese-Bries are members of the Kewaunee County Junior Firefighter Program.

to work regularly with professional firefighters. It has confirmed his desire to pursue the field as a career himself.

“Firefighting is a lot of responsibility,” he says. “You understand that you are putting your life in danger to help other people. It’s not an easy job – it requires hard work to do it properly. Every call is different, so you have to be prepared for pretty much anything.

“I really enjoy the chance to be involved and the opportunity you get to help other people.”

Zellner hopes to continue working within firefighting for the entirety of his career, and shares that he would be a third-generation firefighter in his family. Both his grandfather, David Zellner (20-plus years), and father, Brad Zellner (20-plus years and counting), have firefighting experience.

Du Chateau appreciates the contributions Zellner and fellow L-C High School student Jett Granese-Bries have made to the Luxemburg Community Fire Department, and he hopes to get more students involved in the Junior Firefighter Program in the future.