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Take This Job and Love It: Firefighter

Nick Westendorp

While some kids dream of being a firefighter, Ken Funk wasn’t one of them. He said growing up he thought firefighters were cool, but never saw himself as one, at least until he was invited to be a volunteer.



“When I was 22 after I had finished college, one of my friend’s dads was on the volunteer fire department and he said ‘hey kenny why don’t you join the fire department with me?’ and I said ‘ok yeah, I’ll try it out I might like it,’” said Funk. “I absolutely loved it! I never thought I would do that.”

Ken spent the first ten years of his firefighting career as a volunteer, a few years back he went pro, becoming a full time firefighter at the Traverse City Fire Department. He says for the most part volunteer and professional firefighters do the same job, with a few differences.

Funk said, “as a volunteer firefighter you’re just going when there’s a call, there’s less requirements for maintaining your training, typically there’s less certifications, as a volunteer you can just be fire 1 without any medical, typically volunteer fire departments have a smaller call volume and they can’t really justify having guys staffed on there 24 hours a day.”

Now Ken works four 24 hour days in a 12 day period. During those 24 hour days it isn’t unusual to sleep for part of the shift, but that doesn’t mean it’s all sweet dreams. 

He said, “a lot of people think that ‘oh you’re sleeping’ well, most of us don’t go to bed til about midnight, and there’s typically a call at some point in the middle of the night so you’re really laying down trying to fall asleep, sleeping for two hours, wake up run a call, come back and try to unwind again, wake up and so it’s not glamorous.”

Ken spends his work days going on calls, filling out paperwork, and training, which he said is a really important part of the job.

“Something we say a lot is that when you’re done learning, and you’re done training that should be your last day,” said Ken. “I don’t know what’s gonna walk through the door today, I don’t know what kind of call I’m gonna go on, so we constantly have to prepare ourselves for various different kinds of emergencies, there are numerous things that we have to do so we have to stay proficient in all of those.”

Funk said the field is changing with new technology and techniques, giving even more reason to keep on training. He said the department tries to be progressive rather than reactionary to changes. He said officers to train regularly to get a better understanding of new innovations coming down the pipeline.

He said one of the biggest changes is new training that is being taught for helping with active shooter scenarios.

“So now we’re trained to actually wear a ballistic helmet and a bulletproof vest to go in, apply tourniquets, chest seals and perform life saving intervention in that warm zone, and we’re training with the police to do that kind of stuff,” said Funk.

Ken said right now there are a lot fewer people trying to become firefighters. Firefighting is considered a trade skill, and Ken said he hopes more people realize you don’t always need a college education to get a firefighting job. He said it is a job that can support a family.

“Knowing what I know now, would I have gone to college for 4 years and spent 80 thousand dollars on a college education? Or would I have gone and become a paramedic in two years? My EMT cost $1,600 dollars, my paramedic cost $3,500, and I got my Fire 1 and 2 (certification) paid for by being on the volunteer fire department, I think that was about a $400 or $500 value at the time, so for roughly six grand I was able to get all the training I needed,” he said.

Funk said he’s able to support his family well with his salary. He said while his department’s base pay is lower than a lot of other departments, the overtime makes up for it.

“Our base pay is about 56 thousand, and that’s for the firefighter paramedic once you reach about top step, so I’d say roughly 60 grand,” said Ken

Funk doesn’t plan to seek promotion anytime soon since he is somewhat new to the force, with most of his career as a volunteer, but said he still will try to go through the selection process for the experience.

He said his favorite part of the job is the team he works with.

“The comradery and the family atmosphere, really reminded me of sports teams when I was in high school and college,” he said. “I really like being part of a team, I think a lot of people gravitate towards things that are being part of something larger than themself, I love the job, but I’m here and I want to be the best I can be for the guy next to me so we all get to go home.”

To Ken Funk, Firefighting is the dream job he never knew he wanted, even when situations get heated.