Life as fire/EMT intern can mean going zero to 60 in an instant; 'I love this work'

  • Article by: NEIL JOHNSON , The Janesville Gazette
  • Updated: July 20, 2013 - 12:05 AM

MILTON, Wis. — Milton Firefighter and EMT intern Heather Tollefson was tending to her daily marching orders on a quiet Friday morning.

Tollefson, 25, planned to write a report on an earlier emergency ambulance call, check the fire trucks' firefighter air tanks and generators and head out for a set of pre-fire readiness checks at a half-dozen downtown Milton businesses.

Then, things got interesting.

At 10:27 a.m., the firehouse's radios lit up with a report of a man stung by a hornet outside his home a few blocks away. The man was having an allergic reaction to the sting.

"I've gotta go," Tollefson said, bounding off toward a fire department ambulance already idling in the firehouse garage.

Tollefson's blond, braided ponytail bounced against her black Milton Fire Department T-shirt as she leapt into the back of the ambulance.

In a span of 10 seconds, Tollefson's day had changed. Off she raced to an emergency.

For Tollefson, it was like any other day for a working intern at a small fire department, The Janesville Gazette reported ( An intern can handle many kinds of tasks, some as mundane as cleaning a fire station restroom or filling oxygen tanks.

Other duties, such as writing reports or helping on calls as an ambulance or fire truck "ride along," are crucial for a fire department trainee to gain hands-on work experience.

All the work gets logged in some way as part of a matrix of hundreds of training hours that a firefighter/emergency medical technician needs to complete as a full, on-call member of a fire department.

Tollefson already is certified as a base-level Emergency Medical Technician, known as an EMT-basic, but she is in the middle of a two-year program of coursework at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville to earn certification as an advanced paramedic and a firefighter.

A former restaurant supervisor who has a young daughter and is engaged to be married, Tollefson, a rural Milton resident, said she has always dreamed of being a full-time firefighter/paramedic. She said her fiancé, Eric Sympson of Edgerton, pressed her to follow her dreams.

On Friday, it just happened to be Tollefson's first call to a serious insect sting.

Lt. Aaron Reed, 24, a five-year veteran on the Milton Fire Department, said as an intern, Tollefson could get thrown into any emergency situation at any time.

"When you're training for this work, you get thrown right into real life. It's an eye-opener. It's not you and your buddies sitting around in class or a college cafeteria.

"Today, Heather asked if she could ride along on ambulance calls, and I said sure," Reed said. "So there you go. Bee sting."

Although other area departments have internship programs, Tollefson is the Milton Fire Department's first firefighter intern.

She has been at the 40-member volunteer fire department for about nine months during her schooling at Blackhawk Tech. She has about another semester and a half at BTC. She works 36 hours a week on call at the department.

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