It was the teamwork that first drew young volunteer firefighter Jennifer Schaefer to the fire service.
In addition, “I like to be there for the community,” she said.
Volunteering since age 14, Schaefer followed her father and brother who worked at the Burlington (N.D.) Rural Fire Department. Now 18 years old and enrolled in CSU seeking a bachelor’s degree, she remains a loyal volunteer with her firefighter family.
“I love it. If I didn’t like volunteering, I wouldn’t keep doing it,” she said. The fire service has always meant a lot to Schaefer. So much so that she studied hard and became the youngest firefighter in North Dakota to pass the Fire 1 certification exam at age 14. Because of her dedication to the fire service and hunger to learn more, Schaefer was recently awarded the National Volunteer Junior Firefighter of the Year by the National Volunteer Fire Council during a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
“It seemed too good to be true. I was so excited to get that award and represent the city of Burlington,” she said, adding that the scope of this award hit home when she was told she would be meeting with a senator of North Dakota and the staff of the National Volunteer Fire Council.
Burlington Rural Fire Chief Karter Lesmann wasn’t surprised by her win. “She fell in love with the fire service and just wanted to keep going. She didn’t stop and her drive got here where she is today.”
He said Schaefer has always shown a passion for the fire service.
“Jennifer called me today and asked if there’s anything she can train on. It’s just go, go, go for her,” he said, adding she is very eager to learn. The only female in the department, Schaefer takes on any task and exceeds expectations. She’s part of the rope rescue, water and ice rescue, dive rescue and confined space rescue teams.
“She will never give up. She will stick with it until she understands it,” explained Lesmann. Schaefer, who recently received her diploma at Del-Lacs Burlington High School in North Dakota and began her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, doesn’t plan to slow down. The Burlington Rural Fire Department is so impressed with this young firefighter’s work ethic, members recently voted her in as a safety officer.
“I have not learned even a fraction of the stuff that’s in the fire service,” she said humbly. “On the fire ground, everyone is a safety officer, you look out for your safety first, then the safety of your team, and then, the safety of the community.” Schaefer has adopted a quote from her chief that she preaches daily: “When the time to perform arrives, the time to prepare has passed.”
It’s that moment when duty calls that motivates her most. “You have to be trained and ready. You could go from lying in bed to fighting a structure fire, to cutting somebody out of a car. You have to be ready for what the fire service is going to throw at you.”
And ready she is. Schaefer is excited to begin the pursuit of her degree in fire administration and continue with the next chapter of her life. “I want to be there for people in need; on their worst day, I want to assure them it will get better eventually.”
Pictured above: Jennifer Schaefer poses with other members of the Burlington Rural Fire Department.