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Fire science technology students gain experience with local internship

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Aug 30, 2017

The College of Lake County is the only community college in Illinois to offer an associate degree in firefighter basic operations that includes an internship with a local fire department. And since the internship program began in August 2016, the practical, real-world experience has proven to be invaluable, say CLC’s fire science technology students.

“An internship is where the textbook comes to life,” said Natalee Algozino of Libertyville. “Besides applying your technical skills, such as firefighting techniques, you learn how to handle high-pressure situations by thinking on your feet and making decisions quickly.”

Grayslake Fire Protection District firefighter Natalee Algozino with Instructor Randy JustusAlgozino (at right, with Instructor Randy Justus) is one of 10 CLC students who have completed a two-semester, unpaid internship with the Grayslake Fire Protection District. Of the 10, three, including Algozino, have been hired by the department as part-time firefighters. Another four have landed part-time firefighting positions with other local departments, and one is a wildland (forest) firefighter in Oregon, said Randy Justus, chair of CLC’s fire science technology program. A part-time position is a common, entry-level job that often leads to a full-time firefighting position.

A major strength of CLC’s program, Justus said, is that graduates not only earn an A.A.S. degree, they are eligible for certification at the Fire Basic Operations level by the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal. Additionally, they receive licensure as emergency medical technicians by the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Having those three credentials helps a CLC graduate stand out from the competition,” explained Algozino, who would like to work as a full-time firefighter and eventually advance to a supervisory position.

Another strength of CLC’s program is the quality of the instructors, most of whom have been local fire chiefs, and the lab assistants, who are also firefighters or in mid-level supervisory positions, Algozino added. “They’re very knowledgeable and passionate, and they always cite examples from their work experience to reinforce what we’re learning in class,” she said. “The CLC class sizes are small, and we break into smaller groups to learn practical skills, from how to approach and defeat a basement fire to ventilating roofs."  

The internship program was created under an inter-governmental agreement between CLC and Grayslake fire officials. “The goal in launching the internship was to provide an opportunity for a recent high-school graduate to gain marketable skills through on-the-job training,” said Justus, who served for 30 years in the Mundelein Fire Department, including 16 as chief. Both CLC instructors and Grayslake fire administrators collaborate on areas ranging from interviewing candidates to evaluating student performance.

Grayslake Fire Protection District Chief John Christian said, “CLC students are well-prepared for their roles as interns. They know our equipment, procedures and policies. We’re excited to have a strong partnership with CLC.” The Grayslake district serves 37,000 residents and answers 4,000 calls per year.

The internship helped confirm Algozino’s choice of a firefighting career. “I earned an associate degree in business administration from CLC, and I was on track to transfer to a four year university to compete a bachelor’s degree, but something about it didn’t feel right,” said Algozino, who also works as a live sound engineer. “Ever since I was a kid, I always thought firefighting and EMS were cool, so I decided to follow my gut and seriously pursue it as a career.”

Algozino said she “couldn’t be happier” with her decision. I love the teamwork and the adrenaline kick when a call comes in,” said the 2013 Libertyville High School graduate who is three courses away from earning her A.A.S. in firefighter basic operations. “But most of all, I love to help others, especially those who are experiencing an emergency and are having a horrible day.”

For those interested in applying to CLC’s program, the process has several steps and requirements. All prospective students must complete the Introduction to Fire Science class as a prerequisite. Students also must agree to earn the degree within two years.

For more details on the application process, contact Justus at rjustus@clcillinois.edu or (847) 543-2928. Learn more about the college’s fire science technology program at www.clcillinois.edu/programs/fst.