While many of his friends are prepping for the second year of college, Zech Johnston launched his firefighting career Sunday with the Saline Area Fire Department.
Johnston is one of three new firefighters on the job in Saline. At 19, he's the youngest. The fire department also hired Sean Payeur and Jake Herter.
Johnston grew up down the road in Clinton, where he graduated from high school in 2015.
“I started most of my (emergency medical service) training in school. When I finished high school, I went right into the Clinton fire department (as an on-call firefighter) and continued to learn and get my certifications,” Johnston said.
Before coming to Saline, Johnston worked for Lenawee Community Ambulance. Johnston said he’s glad to begin his firefighting career and he’s aware that it’s rare for someone so young to attain a full-time firefighting job.
“It feels great to start and to do so at a young age. I’m proud that I was able to work hard and achieve this,” Johnston said.
Johnston said he’s known for years he wanted to be a firefighter.
“A big part of it is wanting to help people in need,” Johnston said. “But I want to be in the action. When you see the big red fire truck driving down the road and the flashing lights, you want to know what’s going on. That curiosity attracts you to the job and then you get in into it and fall in love with the job.”
Johnston spent much of his first 24-hour shift Sunday learning the ropes and getting to know the veterans like Deputy Chief Chuck Schaible and Lt. Kurt Schneider.
The fire department now has nine full-time firefighters and 12 paid on-call firefighters and Fire Chief Craig Hoeft. With the new hires, the department should have three firefighters on duty at any given time.
"It's just going to make it a lot easier when you roll up to a fire, now you've got two guys getting the hose out and getting ready while the other guy runs the truck," Hoeft said.
Over the last 20 years, paid on-call firefighters have had more difficulty leaving work to respond to fire calls. That's one of the reasons Hoeft pushed the fire board, City of Saline and townships of York and Saline to approve the annual $180,000 investment in manpower.
There were 35 applicants for the three firefighter jobs. That number was narrowed to 10 by a selection committee, which then presented five candidates to Chief Hoeft.