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APUS Alumni Stories: Chasing Childhood Dreams of Firefighting

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By Melanie Conner, Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison and Dan Fidonik, AMU Graduate

AMU graduate Dan Fidonik.

Fire departments respond to fires, on average, every 24 seconds. They have to work well under pressure and have a unique ability to stay calm under stress. Firefighters are also flexible, finding that they have to make quick and accurate decisions based on the situation surrounding them. They’re dedicated to their team and their community, and they have strong communication skills.

As we celebrate the heart and heroism of firefighters on International Firefighters’ Day on May 4, we wanted to highlight one of our own: Daniel (Dan) Fidonik, who is a Lieutenant with the Franklin Park Fire Department in Illinois.  

Dan exemplifies our core values, such as integrity, accessibility and learning, in his day-to-day role as a Lieutenant. We connected with Dan, and he shared stories with us about his career journey and his passion for fighting fires.

Childhood Dreams of Becoming a Firefighter

In preparing to work in the firefighting field, Dan volunteered as a student athletic trainer in high school to acquire some of the medical skills that he would need as a paramedic. He familiarized himself with fire and rescue textbooks and biographies to get a good understanding of the firefighting field. Two books that really inspired him were “Report from Engine Co. 82” by Dennis Smith and “The Fire That Will Not Die” by Michele McBride.

Dan’s dreams of becoming a firefighter were also motivated by the TV show “Emergency,” about Squad 51 in the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The show focused on the life-and-death challenges and emergencies of the paramedics, firefighters, and members in the community.

I always envisioned myself as Emergency’s Johnny Gage or Capt. Stanley. Lucky for me those dreams have come true, and I have played both roles in real life! I also consider myself to be blessed to be able to make a living serving my community and fellow man.—Dan Fidonik

Evolving into Lieutenant Dan

In 1988, Dan started as a firefighter at Stickney Fire Department in Stickney, Illinois. He was later promoted to Lieutenant in 1997 and served as a lieutenant for two years.

While at the Stickney Fire Department, Dan concurrently worked as a firefighter at Franklin Park from 1997 to 2009. He was promoted to Lieutenant at Franklin Park as well and still serves there.

In 2007, Dan was nominated for the Illinois Firefighting Medal of Honor. He saved a firefighter who fell through a floor into a burning basement.

As the Lieutenant of Franklin Park Fire Department, Dan is responsible for managing one fire station, three fire units and seven personnel on a day-to-day basis. He is responsible for scheduling and other human resources activities, such as trainings for crews, workman compensation, EMS coordination, quality control, and report reviews.

AMU Education

Dan is an AMU graduate who earned a bachelor’s in emergency and disaster management in 2015 and a master’s in management with a concentration in organizational leadership in 2019. Dan was the first member in his family to earn a master’s degree, an accomplishment of which he is proud.

Dan notes that his master’s degree in management helped to prepare him for his current responsibilities. In his role, Dan is also the designated infection control officer.

COVID-19 Response, Daily Responsibilities and Challenges

Dan says, “For the last year, I have helped to lead the department’s COVID-19 response, writing policies, obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE), tracking exposures, and educating crews. My efforts in this were recognized by our local state representative, Brad Stephens.I am also the department’s emergency manager.”

Since 2016, Dan has acted as the Battalion Chief when his department’s Battalion Chief is away. As the acting Battalion Chief, he is in command for a shift, coordinating fire responses and handling other activities such as coordinating calls and commanding rescues.

Dan says, “Our department is going through a transition right now. When I was hired, we were a young department, and now many of our older firefighters and leadership are retiring. This means that younger personnel are taking on leadership roles without the mentoring of older members.”

Dan notes that younger members must reply on formal education more than ever, and convincing younger members that they need to take ownership of their career development through education and training has been a challenge. He says that transformational leadership, a skill he learned from AMU, has served him well in changing the attitudes in younger firefighters guiding them toward better career development.

Dan takes pride in being an effective mentor to other firefighters. Some of the firefighters he has mentored and encouraged have been promoted to officers.

Dan is a current member of our mentoring program, accessible through the University Directory. Join today!

How Dan’s Knowledge Has Influenced His Firefighting Career

The knowledge gained from Dan’s emergency and disaster management degree has proven helpful in his career. He observes that his research and communication skillsets, acquired during his bachelor’s degree, helped him to completely rewrite his community’s Emergency Operations Plan. An emergency planning class from AMU opened his eyes to additional facets that needed to be addressed in an emergency operations plan.

Dan also says that he gained the knowledge needed to interact and work with state and federal agencies during times of emergencies and drills. The knowledge gained from his bachelor’s program proved useful when he taught the National Incident Management System (NIMS) programs.

Dan notes that his master’s degree helped to make him a far better leader than he was. Dan observes, “The curriculum helped me understand what type of leader I was versus the type of leader I needed to be. The knowledge I gained in my organizational leadership classes has helped me navigate some of the challenges I have faced as a leader with personnel and gave me new perspectives on old problems leading to stronger solutions.”

Since 2017, Dan has been an instructor for the University of Illinois Fire Service Institute, where he teaches incident command and active shooter incident management classes. He is an exercise planner with the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS) of Illinois, which is the first of its kind in the nation. MABAS has governance over all fire departments in Illinois, and they assist each other and work together to respond to crises.

Dan has served on the Illinois Urban Search and Rescue team since 2015. On this team, he uses his expertise to help with structural collapses, wide-area searches and COVID-19 response. In addition, Dan is an active member of the university’s alumni community and has been a member of the Alumni Advisory Council since 2020.

Advice to Prospective Firefighters

What advice does Dan give to those who are looking to work in the firefighting field? “Own your career!” he says. “It is up to you to make sure that you have the education needed to succeed. Your department will give you training on the job, but formal education is also a necessity. A diversified education helped me accomplish goals that I didn’t think were possible – I never thought I would be teaching for the University of Illinois.”

Dan also notes the necessity of having a proper work-life balance and taking the time to have fun. He observes, “Take the time to appreciate where you are. Firefighting is the best job in the world, but it does not hold a candle to family. Make sure your priorities are straight.”

Dan has many accomplishments that he savors from his 33-year career in firefighting. He says, “I have delivered babies, revived cardiac arrest victims, saved people from fires, and taught many new EMTs and firefighters who have gone on to do the same.”

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