By Matt Hendley
Broadcast journalism student
Next time you leave the oven on in your apartment, it just may be one of your classmates who shows up in a firetruck.
The team at the Lafayette County Fire Department includes several University of Mississippi students, who are mostly volunteers. They’re at the station 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, in the classroom Tuesdays and Thursdays, and always on call.
“It gets difficult if you’re not committed to both,” said Travis Frese, a junior and paid LCFD firefighter. “It gets hard to keep track of your classes and keep up with working. A lot of people don’t realize how much time we’re up here. Being able to take online classes helps a lot.”
Student firefighters said they face a unique situation in trying to find a balance between being a full-time student and fighting fires.
“Sometimes you have to make the decision between going to class and doing things with (LCFD),” said Patrick Mastro, a UM senior and paid LCFD firefighter. “Honestly, I don’t know if teachers often know what we do. They probably think we’re just ditching class.”
Despite the difficult balance in an already time-consuming period of life, the experience is not something Mastro has taken for granted.
“It’s definitely worth it,” he said. “I think the experience we get up here might supersede some of the grade deficits we may encounter while working.”
Frese said working for the fire department while still in college is putting those who wish to pursue a career as a firefighter ahead of the curve.
“I think it’s extremely valuable,” he said. “We can come in with a lot of certifications other people don’t have, just because they haven’t had the opportunity to work for a department and get those.”
For Mastro, he got involved with the fire department by chance after meeting an LCFD firefighter at a Thanksgiving party.
“(The firefighter) said, ‘Yeah, you can be a firefighter.’ I said, ‘You mean I can just join and they give me gear and I can go run into a burning house?’” he said. “I didn’t really know much about it. But, I tried it out, and it was true.”
For Frese, becoming a firefighter was a childhood dream come true.
“When I was little, it was just something I liked. I think every little boy likes to see a firetruck go by, and then you never really grow out of it,” he said.
Not many people voluntarily choose to run into a fire. When other people’s lives are at stake, however, adrenaline kicks in.
“We’re probably a little crazy. It’s scary the first time and then it becomes oddly fun,” Mastro said.
LCFD Chief Steven Wood said the student firefighters play a vital role in the department and said that the experiences they gain working for the station are invaluable.
“I believe that’s called life experience,” he said. “It creates responsibility, friendship, and a brotherhood that you could not get from anywhere else.”
He sees the opportunity as a way for students to serve their community and learn life skills.
“It’s not for money, it’s not for fame. It’s for the community,” Wood said.
If you’re interested in joining the Lafayette County Fire Department, visit http://lafayettecountyfd.org or call (662) 232-2880.