Dixon firefighters teach the next generation at the Illinois Fire Service Institute

Dixon City Firefighters Dylan Fisher and Aaron Brown.

DIXON – Two Dixon city firefighters are going the extra mile to protect their community and build up the next generation of firefighters by teaching classes at the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

“It’s always encouraged to go out and do things like [teaching] because not only does it help better our next generations of firefighters, but it also betters yourself,” said Dylan Fisher, a firefighter with the Dixon Fire Department.

“It’s always encouraged to go out and do things like [teaching] because not only does it help better our next generations of firefighters, but it also betters yourself.”

—  Dixon firefighter Dylan Fisher

The Illinois Fire Service Institute is the statutory state fire academy for Illinois. Opening in 1925, it is the oldest continuously running fire training institution in the U.S. Yearly, the IFSI reaches about 60,000 students, delivering more than 1,600 courses offered through various programs.

The IFSI maintains a fleet of mobile training resources across Illinois. Its main campus in Champaign features a 28-acre training ground and class-A live-fire training equipment.

At the Dixon City Fire Department, all full-time firefighters are sent to the IFSI to complete training in a seven-week program. Fisher described the program as “very intense.” They gain hands-on training by going into structure fires every day, he said.

Fisher was hired by Dixon City FD in August 2020. He began his fire service in 2013 with the Rochelle Fire Department.

With seven years of fire experience and an in-house basic operations firefighter class, Fisher said the program at the IFSI was “a really good experience” because it was more advanced and gave him the opportunity to improve his skills.

Aaron Brown, a captain at Dixon City FD, went through that same program at the IFSI. He said he always wanted to “strive to be an instructor.”

“Not to sound cheesy, but I always wanted to try to be the best [firefighter] that I could be,” Brown said.

To become an instructor at the IFSI, firefighters can apply and go through a formal application process, but for the most part, students who show an interest in teaching are asked, which is how both Brown and Fisher were given the opportunity.

Fisher started as an instructor in 2019 teaching the wild land program. With that program, he went to Oregon and taught the Oregon National Guard strategies in wild land firefighting, which he described as a “really cool experience.”

In early 2021, Fisher started teaching the basic operations firefighter class in Cherry Valley. From there, he was asked to teach the Rapid Intervention Team under-fire program, both of which he still teaches today.

Brown teaches two classes, leadership development and decision-making, and the RIT under-fire program.

RIT stands for Rapid Intervention Team, which is a team that every fire squad wants to have when going into a fire scene. The team’s job is to rescue a downed firefighter if there is one. In the class, they take students through fire scenarios based on an actual line-of-duty death, Fisher said.

“We’re teaching these firefighters how to attack different obstacles, but we’re also remembering the firefighters that we lost in the line of duty,” Fisher said.

Fisher is nearing 11 years in the fire service. Coming from a family of firefighters, he said he “knew from Day 1” that he would follow in their footsteps.

Brown has been at the Dixon City FD for 12 years and has been in the fire service for 13. Originally from a Chicago suburb, Brown “tested everywhere” and was eventually hired there.

“Once I took the job here, I loved the culture. I love the guys, I love the town and I haven’t looked back since,” Brown said.

For Brown, growing up with his mom as a nurse, he always knew he wanted to help people. However, he said his desire to become a fireman “really dialed in” when he was a kid and a friend’s dad became a Chicago firefighter.

“I remember vividly, you know, going to the firehouse and seeing the guys. ... seeing that workplace family. It really made me want to be a firefighter,” Brown said.

At Dixon City FD, they have “20 people on the job” and “six people a shift with three shifts,” Brown said. In Brown’s role of captain, he runs the shift each day he is scheduled. Second in command is a lieutenant; four firefighters make up the rest of the team.

Firefighters work 24 hours on and 48 hours off. To get time off to teach, they either have to find someone to work for them or schedule vacation time, Brown said.

Brown described his teaching experience as a give-and-take in which he tries to give back any knowledge he learned through his own experiences while trying to learn as much as he can from the veteran instructors at the IFSI.

In addition to training future firefighters, the IFSI offers an Explorer Cadet Fire School, conducts life safety research and much more.

For information on the IFSI, visit its website, www.fsi.illinois.edu.

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Payton Felix

Payton Felix

Payton Felix reports on local news in the Sauk Valley for the Shaw Local News Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2023.