In National Guard or Ottawa Fire Department, Austin Eby proud to serve

Local firefighter expects first overseas deployment within a month

Ottawa firefighter and paramedic Austin Eby poses for a photo at the Ottawa Fire Station off of State Street on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Ottawa.

Austin Eby knows what it means to serve the public, his home and his country and he’s going about it in a couple of different ways.

Not only is the 25-year-old a valued new member of the Ottawa Fire Department, he also is on active duty with the Illinois National Guard and expects to experience his first overseas deployment sometime in the next month or so.

“It’s exciting,” Eby said. “I’m looking forward to it.

“It’s tough to swing both at the same time, especially all the training that you have to go through at the [firefighters] academy and the EMT. You have to wear a lot of hats, to play different roles, but they kinda go hand in hand with the intensity of training, the seriousness of it. It’s tough to go back and forth, study this, study that, but it’s manageable. It’s not too bad.”

“I had always heard that becoming a firefighter was tougher to do than becoming a cop.”

—  Austin Eby, Ottawa firefighter

Eby, who has been all over the country for National Guard training, starting in 2021 with his initial infantry schooling at Fort Benning, Georgia, finds interesting parallels between the two careers.

“Serving in the military and as a firefighter are a lot alike in that you develop a bond with your guys because you spend so much time together,” Eby said. “You gain a unique perspective on their lives and know them so much better than you might at a more traditional job. … The training for both is pretty tough, pretty similar, working on those things every day to stay proficient at them. There’s a lot of structure, too, and the fact that they’re both pretty serious stuff.

“The difference is the schedule. I like the fire department schedule way more.”

The toughest question one could ask Eby now would be which he would choose to pursue if he could only have one.

“Wow,” he said with a shake of his head. “I would probably choose fire. I love the guard, I’ve very much enjoyed doing it, but I definitely think I’ll do this for as long as I’m able to.”

Firefighting was not always at the forefront in Eby’s life as he went “through a lot of stages in my life where I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do.”

A native of northern Illinois, he spent his teen years growing up in the Aurora area, attending two high schools. He first went to Grayslake North, but later graduated from Oswego East before going on to Lewis University, where he started out taking classes toward a career in aviation.

Eventually, his interest in that faded and in order to keep his ROTC scholarship on a four-year track, he switched to criminal justice.

“Everybody else in the guard was a cop, so I figured I couldn’t go wrong there,” Eby said with a laugh. “But I didn’t really want to do all that – the SWAT stuff was what interested me the most – so it wasn’t what I saw myself doing.”

Seeking a new challenge, Eby looked into firefighting and found it right up his alley. A thirst for knowledge, especially the training in the medical end of his paramedic courses, helped drive him to jump into the job search immediately.

“I had always heard that becoming a firefighter was tougher to do than becoming a cop,” he said. “Everyone I talked to said that, and they told me to start applying right away because it was going to take, like, five years to get in, so I did it right away.

“The position [in] Ottawa popped up and at the time it didn’t require paramedic training, so it was a perfect fit for me. I had taken another test somewhere else, and that was practice for this one. I was pretty lucky to have that come up just then. I’m just really happy to be here.”

Ottawa firefighter and paramedic Austin Eby, check fire gear on a fire engine at the Ottawa Fire Station off of State Street on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Ottawa.
Have a Question about this article?