As a first-year student at Kenyon, Liam Brodigan ’19 was eager to explore — and serve — his new community. The American studies major from Amherst, Massachusetts, has always been passionate about community service, and he moved to Gambier hoping to continue volunteering in his new home.
“Where I’m from in Massachusetts is so different from Knox County, Ohio,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get involved in this community. I’ve got to find myself here’.”
That’s when he came across a flyer for a volunteer program with the College Township Fire Department (CTFD).
“The fire department just sounded like an interesting, fun, unique program,” he explained. “At the beginning of my first semester, I met some of the people from the department and decided to go down to the station that Sunday to check it out. And then I just kept coming down. I realized that this was what I really wanted to do. Looking back, it was definitely a good decision.”
Brodigan is one of 12 Kenyon students who volunteer as firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) with the CTFD. These students are some of the first responders to fires and medical emergencies across eastern Knox County.
CTFD student volunteers undergo hours of rigorous training and preparation to keep Knox County safe. On Sundays, students complete four- to six-hour mandatory training sessions, and on Tuesdays they perform three hours of truck checks and additional training. Students also often report to the fire station throughout the week to hone the skills they have learned. In addition, Ohio’s EMT certification, a requirement for student volunteers, mandates the completion of 150 hours of coursework. Including actual fire and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) runs, CTFD Fire Chief Bill Smith estimates that the typical recruit might spend up to 30 hours per week at the station.
“It’s a huge commitment, but the community benefits enormously from the time and dedication they put in,” Smith said. “It’s also very worthwhile for the students. They gain a lot of life experience here, and develop growth and maturity when they assume leadership roles. And it’s definitely a huge resume builder, especially if they’re looking to go on into the medical field.”
This program, Brodigan says, has given students invaluable experience in leading both fire and EMS teams. “We’re the ones driving the trucks, pumping the trucks, responding to serious EMS and fire calls. We are the ones in charge in those scenarios,” he explained. “To be a 20-year-old and be in charge on a fire truck is pretty rare and is a really cool opportunity.”
Ben Tauber ’18, a neuroscience major from Barrington, Rhode Island, describes the exhilarating experience of a volunteer’s first run. “You’re driving in a box going 60 miles per hour in the left lane and it’s very exciting. You have that moment where everything is so new and you’re just terrified.”
But Tauber’s nerves have steadied during his four years and countless runs with the CTFD. He now serves as the department’s senior student coordinator alongside Brodigan and Isaac Hager ’19, an English major from Baltimore.
“You gain a confidence in your skills,” Tauber said. “I’m less concerned about not knowing what to do when I get there and more concerned about making sure that the training that we’ve done is going to work out, making sure people are doing well.”
Despite the inherent risks and countless hours of training, Tauber, Brodigan and Hager assert that volunteering with the department is something that they love to do. “It’s what I spend most of my time here doing,” Brodigan said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the fire department. It’s such a fun, rewarding job.”
—Ben Hunkler ’20