Student firefighters ‘always learning’ on, off the job

Josh Payne, sophomore in personal financial planning, is in his first year in the student firefighter program. He became interested in the program because his dad has been a volunteer firefighter for 22 years. (Shelton Burch | The Collegian)

Just as Brooke Harshaw, graduate student in agricultural education and student firefighter, was about to explain what led her to pursue firefighting, a bell-like noise reverberated through the station. She paused.

“I might have to go,” Harshaw said.

The bell sounded again. This time with a second, more high pitch tone following the bell.

Harshaw’s face instantly became more serious.

“I’ve got to go,” she said.

As suddenly as the first bell sounded, firefighters began emerging from every direction, and in a blink of an eye they were gone.

The Manhattan Fire Department offers a student firefighter program for students enrolled full time at Kansas State or Manhattan Christian College, according to the City of Manhattan website.

Harshaw is not the only student firefighter employed at the Manhattan Fire Department. She said there are four other student firefighters.

Luke Fischer, senior in social sciences and fourth-year student firefighter, went through the Manhattan fire academy the summer after his senior year of high school. Fischer said he pursued firefighting as a college job because he saw firefighting as a career and as a good way to build experience and his resume.

“I hope to one day be a firefighter paramedic,” Fischer said.

Like Fischer, Josh Payne, sophomore in personal financial planning, said he knew he wanted to be involved in the firefighting profession, whether it was through volunteer firefighting, which he began doing at 16 years old, or as a career.

Payne said going through the Manhattan fire academy provided a more intense and in-depth training compared to his volunteer training.

“Every single one of the guys is willing to help you with anything you ask,” Payne said. “They want you to learn and grow and become a better firefighter just as much as you want to. They’re all great guys to look up to.”

During the school year, Payne arrives at the fire station ready for work at 5 p.m. and leaves at 8 a.m. the following morning. He said when he arrives at the station, he prepares his gear by the truck so he is ready to go at a moment’s notice.

“You really develop a bond with (the crew) when you work 24 hours at a time or even over the nights,” Payne said. “It’s just like being on a sports team where you get to know each other very well and get really close with them.”

Payne said the shifts rotate so student firefighters work every other day for about a week then have four days off, which is similar to the schedules of career firefighters.

“You’re always learning, you learn to not be complacent and that will carry on to other jobs as well,” Payne said.

Payne and Harshaw both come from firefighting backgrounds, where each of their fathers were volunteer firefighters. Payne’s father volunteered for 22 years and Harshaw’s father volunteered for around 23 years.

Like their fathers, Harshaw and Payne both said they want to continue firefighting in the future.

Although firefighting is not the safest of jobs, Payne said his family is proud of him and of the career service aspect of his job.

Payne said he also values the relationships and friendships he is building along the way.

“It’s a great opportunity, and there is no other job like it for a student,” Payne said.