Austintown Firefighters and EMTs Navigate Students on First Responder Career Path

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When it comes to TV dramas about firefighters and paramedics, the shows are pretty true to form.

From the accident scenes to the inside of the firehouse and the firetruck to the way the firefighters portrayed on TV joke with each other, “I think those are actually very accurate,” says Andy Frost, fire chief at Austintown Township Fire Department.

“You love coming to work every day because it’s like being in a clubhouse with your buddies,” Frost says.

The parts that are different from real life are the fire scenes themselves, he says. While the firefighters can be clearly seen inside of a structure fire, what a firefighter actually sees inside of a burning house is much different – the smoke is usually extremely heavy and the heat gets very intense “even through your turnout gear,” he says.

“It wouldn’t make good TV if you really couldn’t see much inside the building,” he says.

Austintown firefighters/EMTs and MCCTC instructors discuss the first responder career path with Jeremy Lydic.

Frost offered his perspective on the firefighter and EMS (emergency medical services) career paths during a Brain Gain Navigators webinar held Monday afternoon. He joined Austintown Battalion Chief Tom O’Hara, firefighter Nick Heitzer and Judy Hartley, Austintown firefighter and EMT/paramedic with Lane Lifetrans in discussing the career with students attending the virtual event.

All four individuals are also instructors at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center Adult Career Center.

Frost shared what it was like when he first went into a house with a basement fire, which is one of the “most dangerous fires that firefighters have to get into because there’s really no way to get out when things go bad,” he says. Frost credits his mentor at the time for walking him through the experience safely.

“I was scared to death,” Frost says. “So we were going down the steps and I started really feeling the heat. And that mentor, he said ‘We’re in good shape. I’ll keep you safe.’ And he got us down there and we got to the fire and I was just so hooked at that point.”

MCCTC students prepare to enter the fire training building at the Canfield campus.

Along with the adrenaline rush that comes with the job, being a firefighter is a very rewarding career, Heitzer says. Heitzer started EMT school as a college freshman, then took fire training while attending college through adult education courses.

However, high school students have a unique opportunity to take classes now, so when they graduate they can get their foot in the door and make $30,000 to $40,000 to start, he says.

“What you guys have is the opportunity to go while you’re in high school and take the same courses that Judy [Hartley] took as a 20-year-old, I took as a 20-year-old, you have the opportunity to take that fire course as an 18-year-old or 17-year-old,” he says. “So you truly have a job opportunity … all over the country waiting for you, as long as you take this school seriously if you really want to do it.”

Watch the video above for the full webinar, and be sure to read the feature story in the Brain Gain section of the MidOctober 2021 edition.

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