Molly Fritz recently became the first female firefighter in the history of the Jamestown Rural Fire Department.
But Fritz isn’t a stranger to firefighting. She has relatives who either work or have worked in the field.
“My grandpa was actually a fire chief in Enderlin, North Dakota, and even though I never got to meet him it was just kind of a way for me to like honor him almost,” the Jamestown woman said about becoming a firefighter.
Fritz and three other recruits recently officially became firefighters at JRFD after completing their training. Brian Paulson, rural fire chief, said the department is now fully staffed with 34 personnel.
For three of the new recruits who recently spoke about joining, becoming a part of JRFD is about helping the community.
“I thought it was a great way to give back to my community,” Fritz said.
She said having relatives who have been firefighters - including a female relative in Aberdeen in the field - influenced her choice.
“I think that I saw how important it was to them and how impactful it was in their lives and I kind of wanted to be part of that family or that group,” she said.
Being a female firefighter hasn’t been an issue at JRFD.
“No, actually, if not they were more accepting of me, kind of looking at me as a little sister,” she said.
She said when she decided to apply to JRFD, she knew some of the firefighters. She said they’re always looking out for her.
She likes the rural coverage area of JRFD.
“I wasn’t quite sure exactly what it would all entail or even if I could do it, but being on the department everyone kind of helps each other out ... you’re helping the community and you’re being out there with your group," she said. "It’s just - it’s a great experience.”
Brandan Schmitz came to Jamestown to attend the University of Jamestown. He’s in his last semester at UJ, expecting to graduate in December.
But the student dual majoring in computer science and information technology plans to stay here after he graduates.
Schmitz grew up in the Twin Cities. He said he worked with the fire department for five years in Inver Grover Heights, Minnesota, through the Fire Explorer program, which is part of Learning for Life, a branch of the Boy Scouts of America program.
Schmitz said he missed that kind of work after moving to Jamestown, so he decided to look into joining JRFD. His studies at UJ helped connect him to the fire department, he said. Jacob Barnard, a UJ professor in the computer science department, was also the training officer on the department at that time and is now a captain. Barnard’s mother was one of Schmitz’s teachers in high school.
He said being part of JRFD, “You get to go out and do things, help people, what they need help with. It’s a fun group to be with as well.”
Schmitz works remotely as a site reliability engineer for Intelletive Consulting of Burnsville, Minnesota, in addition to his UJ studies and firefighter work. He will continue working remotely for the company once he graduates from UJ, he said.
Schmitz said he likes the smaller city life of Jamestown and prefers that over larger metro areas such as the Twin Cities where he grew up.
“I’ve always liked more spacious areas with less people,” he said. “And Jamestown is pretty much the perfect size for me.”
Dan Schill became a firefighter after hands-on work at JRFD’s new facility - literally.
The Langdon, N.D., native is an electrician. He said his work at the building sparked his interest in the fire department’s work.
“My company built that new fire hall that we’re in now and so just talking to some of the guys during the construction process …. kind of got me interested in seeing what it was all about,” he said.
Schill began training in February of this year. He said it was more involved than he thought it would be.
“I guess I was surprised about how much of it there was,” he said. “I thought for a volunteer fire department it would be a little bit more casual, I guess you would say, but they actually go through quite a bit,” including training in Bismarck, around the fire hall and in Jamestown.
“We ended up doing all the training in house after all the COVID shut everything down,” he said. But while that was unexpected it also helped speed up the training, he said, and the training could be done here.
Schill said his work as an electrician also is relevant to his work as a firefighter.
“If they needed to cut power to a house that was on fire, (I) know quite a bit more about that, than say the normal person on the street and how to kill it or what the dangers might be with it,” he said.
Schill said being a member of JRFD is more than fighting fires and going on calls.
“I enjoy the sense of family that comes with it, getting to know all the people on the department,” he said. “Everybody kind of helps each other out - just even just normal life ... It’s a good way to meet new people around town."
Like other new apprentices, he began going on calls right away to learn the job. He said his parents and brother, who live in Langdon, and a brother who lives in Grand Forks, are supportive of his firefighter work. Schill also, like Fritz, has a few relatives who work in the firefighting field.
“It was just kind of the right place, right time sort of thing," Schill said of joining JRFD.