Woodstock North twins to graduate Saturday with firefighting jobs in Wonder Lake

Explorer program set Menzel brothers up for jobs upon graduation

Twins Parker and Hunter Menzel, who will graduate from Woodstock North on Saturday, May 19, 2024, have already began working as Wonder Lake firefighters.

Hunter and Parker Menzel have always known what they planned to do after high school: become firefighters.

They didn’t have to wait until their graduation Saturday from Woodstock North High School to start their careers. The 18-year-old twins have already been working 48 hours a month as probationary firefighters for the Wonder Lake Fire Protection District.

Since 2020, the two have been part of the fire district’s Explorer club, learning the basics of fire service. Once they turned 18 in February “we put them on as basic operations firefighters,” Wonder Lake Chief Mike Weber said.

The brothers have more to learn to become full-fledged firefighter-paramedics. But by the time they’re 21, they will have all of the training needed, via either McHenry County College or the Illinois Fire Services Institute.

“Right now, they are members and are allowed to go on calls with us. They are supplementary, to help us for fire and ambulance calls,” Weber said.

The brothers, who live in Wonder Lake, are from a firefighting family. Their great-grandfather was fire chief on the Rural Woodstock Fire District. Their grandfather was a deputy chief for Woodstock Fire/Rescue, and their grandmother was the first woman on the rescue department. Their dad is a firefighter in Wheeling.

Twins Parker and Hunter Menzel, who will graduate from Woodstock North on Saturday, May 19, 2024, have already began working as Wonder Lake firefighters.

“It is something we have been looking forward to since we were little,” Hunter said of their chosen career.

“We are following in their footsteps. It is something I have always wanted to do,” Parker added.

They cannot intubate a patient in the field, or go into an active fire – yet. But they can throw ladders, unwind and wind hoses and pass medical supplies to working paramedics, and they’re paid for their work now too, Weber said.

Parker responded on May 7 to a Wonder Lake fire that destroyed a garage and damaged the attached house.

“It is something we have been looking forward to since we were little.”

—  Wonder Lake Firefighter Hunter Menzel

“The first time the tones went off, for a structure fire in the middle of the night ... [I wondered], ‘Are we going to let them go? On a school night?’ ” said their mom, April Menzel.

Currently, the department is working to get Hunter and Parker trained and licensed to drive the trucks and ambulances. In August, the brothers will take their first Emergency Medical Technician class at MCC. When not in school or working at the department, the two have started a lawn care and snow removal service.

Altogether, getting the certifications needed to be a firefighter-paramedic can cost thousands of dollars, Weber said. But as the Menzel brothers are working at the station as they go – and as their dad is a fire science instructor at MCC too – they will likely finish the program with little to no debt.

Weber is also very aware that once the brothers turn 25, they will move on to a larger department with better pay than Wonder Lake can offer. As a small department, all of their staff is part-time and average $20,000 to $30,000 a year. At a large Illinois department, firefighters can make $80,000 to $100,000 a year, according to Weber.

“We understand, we are going to be training people,” Weber said. “But the goal is to get them trained to be hired full time.”

Their agreement with young firefighters who come up through the Explorer program is that once they are past their probationary periods at a bigger department, “they come back to help me with the next group of Explorers and help the district that helped them,” Weber said.

It is because of that Explorer experience that the Menzel brothers can jump in as probationary firefighters at just 18, Weber explained.

“They attended all of the [Explorer] trainings, two or three times a month, and also come to our trainings. They know all of the practical” aspects of the job, Weber said. “The instructors at MCC tell us how good they are. This is not the first time they have done this. It is the 100th time.”

Hunter and Parker have a leg up on getting into the fire service because of their years as Explorers, Weber noted. Across the country, fire departments are reporting fewer people applying for open spots, and fewer young recruits.

Wonder Lake and fire districts in Hebron-Alden-Greenwood, Spring Grove and Richmond have talked about combining their Explorer programs, too, as a way to create a bigger cohort of future firefighters.

“You would go to college and training with your team,” Weber said.

As for Hunter and Parker Menzel, they plan to see where their careers take them in the future, but knowing they will likely end up at different fire departments.

Their friends and classmates who know about their firefighting jobs “are surprised that we have a head start going on here,” Hunter Menzel said.

“They think it’s amazing,” Parker Menzel said.

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