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SWANSEA, Mo. – Each month, FOX 2 gives out our Proud to Serve award. This month, we salute Austen Baker, a young man from Swansea, Illinois, who spent his teenage years learning how to be a firefighter.

Austen said a friend recommended the volunteer class to him. He thought, “why not,” and decided to go.  He soon found himself going back to receive ongoing training and eventually joined the cadet program.

He was accepted onto the Swansea Fire Department as a probationary firefighter. He later joined the Eastside Fire Protection District in Belleville. 

At just 16 years old, Austen says at first he was observing and participating only inside the firehouse, “checking trucks, do their training with them, but not yet running a call.” At first, he learned he wasn’t as tough as he thought.

In his words, firefighting is, “very demanding. Very physical. You see things you don’t want to see and you have to push through it.”

Austen said his training included, “equipment checks, testing the air packs, test the battery-powered equipment, chainsaws, fans to make sure it is all on the truck and operating correctly.” 

Once Austen turned 18, he joined the Eastside Fire Department in Belleville, which was a little closer to home. Austen said his first call he felt a lot of anxiety and adrenaline. 

“It was very overwhelming,” he said.

He said he kept his training in the back of his mind and made sure to check in with his captain to make sure he was doing the right things.

Austen said he’s learned that all fires are different. No two fires are the same.

“There’s way more stuff than just running to the building and putting water on a fire. You have to know how the fire is going to behave,” he said. “You have to look at the smoke color and direction of the smoke. What type of building you are in (and) if there are basements. Where to lay hoses, put ladders up, where to find ventilation and so much more.”

Austen plans to continue his passion for firefighting. He recently moved to Troy, too far away to be a part of the Eastside Protection District. He’s still young and hopes to gain some experience working other full-time jobs. 

But he says the passion is there. 

“Everyone that goes into firefighting is very nice,” he said. “Very friendly and dedicated to what they do. And they will all have your back no matter what. It’s a brotherhood.”

Austen receives $500 from Brown and Brown Law Firm. Partner Dan Brown says, “This man is committed.  When I see the youth, you ask what is the next generation going to be like.  And here it is.” 

If you would like to nominate a first responder, military, or veteran for our Proud to Serve award, click here.