BTC student finds great value with internship

It comes as no great surprise that Bri Meris is an intern at the Orfordville Fire Department, an opportunity for her to not only get academic training but to provide a community service that seemingly is ingrained in her.

“It is the center of my life,’’ the Blackhawk Technical College student said recently while discussing an internship that allows her to work as both a firefighter and emergency medical technician in the village of 1,460 about 15 miles west of BTC’s Central Campus.

Meris was first formally introduced to the life of a small town volunteer five years ago when she was 18. She had first felt the pull to the fire protection lifestyle a few years earlier when an acquaintance was found dead from a suicide. It grew even more a few years later when another friend died in a car accident.

In both situations, she saw the caring and compassion with which the Orfordville department responded in such trying circumstances.  

“It really stuck with me about how they did all the things they could to show just how much they cared,’’ she remembered. “I thought then that I wanted to be that person.’’

Since March 2014, her formal internship has brought an even deeper connection to the department that features 14 other firefighters/EMTS, 16 firefighters and six EMTs. Only one member of the department is a full-time employee and one other is a part-time day shift employee.

Meris, who lives in the Town of Newark a few miles south of Orfordville, covers two 24-hour shifts per week and one 24-hour weekend shift per month as part of her internship. These concentrated workdays offer the real taste of a firefighter’s life, even in a small village that thankfully rarely has anything more than local brush fires to deal with.

“I love the small town feel,’’ she said.

A typical 24-hour shift includes a workout session at the local high school gym, dinner and, when available, sleep time until 6 a.m. When the alarm goes off, it’s time for truck and equipment checks, cleaning and training for both fire protection and EMT work.

Meris estimated that the department gets one call a day. However, that varies. She recalls as many as five calls a shift while there are days when there are no calls. There is more call for EMT services than actual firefighting.

“They want us to know the station and the routine from top to bottom. Everything is hands on,’’ she said. “They do depend on us.’’

Meris likens the station atmosphere to a family. She’s comfortable going to anyone for advice and knows that her fellow department members will be there with tips to help her do a better job.

“The older guys are so caring and willing to help you,’’ she explained. “It really is a community. Those are the people that if you ever need anything, they are lining up to help you.’’

During the summer, Meris will concentrate on fulfilling some of her General Education requirements at Blackhawk. When the fall semester begins, she will return to the internship and her fire protection classes in the Public Safety program.

She is still considering what her future may hold. She is looking into Paramedic training. But her “passion’’ is, she said, “the fire side.’’

Meris’ internship is just one of many varied internship opportunities offered through Blackhawk Technical College with the cooperation of area public safety divisions and businesses.

For more information regarding internships at Blackhawk, contact internship coordinator Kerry Osmond at (608) 757-7724 or at ckoerth@blackhawk.edu.