Tyler Meyeres was just walking into Wal-Mart on his first day on call as a probationary high school member of the Maquoketa volunteer fire department.
“This would be an interesting time for a call,” he remembers thinking.
That’s when his pager went off for the first time, and Meyeres was called to a fully engulfed machine shed fire on Highway 64 west of Maquoketa.
Meyeres immediately got to help on a hose line, though he would not have been allowed to fight the fire inside.
“It was quite a first experience,” he said. “I don’t want to say it was enjoyable, but it just affirmed that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”
Meyeres plans to attend Iowa State University this fall to study criminal justice or political science. He hopes to volunteer on a nearby volunteer force during college if possible, and after college, he wants to become a full-time firefighter.
“I want to continue being involved in firefighting professionally for the rest of my life,” he said. “Thirty years from now, I want to do something that allows me to make a difference, to have been true to myself and be proud of myself, and this meets my criteria.”
Meyeres is Maquoketa Fire Department’s first high school recruit. As such, he’s a probationary member. He goes through the same training as other firefighters.
He has some restrictions on his firefighting, must keep his grades up, can’t respond during school hours, and must follow all traffic laws in responding to a scene.
The Maquoketa Fire Department has two spots for high school recruits. One slot currently is open, and when Meyeres graduates and leaves for Ames, there will be two positions open to applicants.
The program really came from Meyeres’ initiative. He approached his father, Maquoketa training officer Rian Meyeres, about starting such a program, similar to those found in other departments around the nation.
Rian and Fire Chief Matt Tranel thanked high school staff for helping get the program off the ground.
Tyler grew up watching his father go out to fire calls and trainings. As he approaches the end of his high school career, he said he felt “an itch to be involved in something bigger.”
Though it was more dramatic than most calls, Tyler said the response on that first call wasn’t that different than what he expected.
“The number-one thing is safety,” he said. “Everybody’s watching out for each other, and watching each others’ backs.”
Keeping each other safe in the midst of danger helps develop a deep bond among firefighters, so they all feel like family, Meyeres said.
Membership on Maquoketa’s firefighting force normally requires a high school diploma or the equivalent. Members are typically probationary for six months, during which they are subject to some of the same restrictions as outlined above.
Across the county, other departments handle young recruits in various ways. The Miles Fire Department allows members to join at 17. In some departments, like Andrew, a high schooler can join the fire department any time after the 18th birthday.