Paul Voswinkel – Volunteer Firefighter
Accountant. Father. Volunteer Firefighter.
Five years ago, Paul Voswinkel’s life looked nothing like that of a firefighter. Professionally, he is a controller for a tech company in the City of Chicago. He lives with his wife and children in Glen Ellyn. His friend was a volunteer firefighter and encouraged Paul to apply—he had been recruiting him for years, and Paul finally relented. “I saw it as a good opportunity to give back to the community and be a good role model for my kids,” says Paul. “And it’s cool. It’s such a thrill to go into burning buildings.”
When asked what it took to go from being an accountant to feeling equipped to fight a fire, he says that the training is intensive. “It’s the same training a full-time paid firefighter would get,” says Paul. He explains that you learn a lot out of books, like fire behavior, the history of the fire service, tools and techniques of the trade, and the evolution of firefighting over time. And you get a lot of physical training—like practicing vehicle extractions, or entering “the maze,” where you learn to work your way through a tight space in the dark wearing your gear and air tank. There is a lot to memorize, like all of the equipment and every tool on every vehicle and how to use them in many different ways. And you practice driving the engines and trucks. “Because the vehicles are so much bigger than anything most people have driven, it can be intimidating at first, but with training you get used to it,” says Paul.
But, explains Paul, the training is very thorough. During the initial 18-month probation period, you meet twice a week to learn and grow. “People constantly praise our training, it’s excellent—as good as you would get anywhere,” says Paul.
“I view fire fighting as a great opportunity to give back to my community and be a good role model for my kids.”
And so Paul felt ready when he first had the chance to fight a fire. “On July 24, 2018, a call came in for a warehouse fire in Glen Ellyn. It was the first time I was the nozzle at a fire. We were the first ones on scene. This was a huge adrenaline rush—to be the first ones in there, knowing how hot it was inside because there were little fires all over the place,” says Paul. “That night, after the fire was out, I couldn’t sleep because I was so charged up. I was up all night walking around. It’s a dream. That’s what people who do this want to do—put the fire out with the hose.”
Another rewarding aspect, Paul explains, is going to calls to help the medics—sometimes with CPR or driving the ambulance. “We show up and do what we can do,” says Paul. And sometimes, what they can do feels valuable and miraculous. “On one call, I drove an ambulance and the person had no pulse—but the medics were able to revive them before we arrived at the hospital,” says Paul.
“Being an accountant, fire fighting is all very different,” says Paul. “That’s what’s really nice. For a lot of people it can be quite different from anything else you’ve done. Becoming a firefighter is using totally different parts of your brain and body.”
“Joining the volunteer fire company lets you do something totally different from your day job. It’s a real thrill to be able to help so many others.”
Paul’s top three reasons to volunteer:
Give back to the community. “It’s very fulfilling to help people,” says Paul. “That’s what we’re about.”
The camaraderie. “Here, you are part of a tight-knit group of people who care about you on a personal level,” says Paul.
The thrill of responding. “When your pager goes off, you are out the door—and you don’t know what you are going to get,” says Paul. “Everyone wants to be on the first engine out.”