Since he was a little boy, Austin Welch has wanted to be a firefighter. His dream came true March 21, when he was accepted as a firefighter with the Hillsboro Fire Department.
Since before he was approved to join the department, Austin has been busy taking firefighting courses in Halstead in the evenings.
“He’s a busy kid,” Austin’s mom Angie said. “This is something he’s liked all his life.”
Austin has been involved with the department since he was four years old, when he noticed a small fire in the bushes in front of Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church in 2003.
“He was standing outside at (the old location of) Vogt’s with his mom and was pointing and saying, ‘Fire, fire, fire,’ until he got his mom’s attention,” fire chief Ben Steketee said.
His mother called the fire department, and the fire was put out with only minor damage to the building.
“We thought that was pretty neat, so we got him a remote control fire truck,” Steketee said.
From then on, Steketee said, Austin was always a part of the fire department.
“He was always around and always wanting to participate,” Steketee said. “That was, I think, the start of it all.”
Austin’s dad also got involved as a firefighter with the department for eight years. Austin also has a cousin who is a firefighter in Wichita, so it was only a matter of time until he also joined the field.
“So I was around the department at a young age and got a grasp for the job,” Austin said. “Being around it, you just kind of want to follow in the family footsteps and make it a family business.”
Austin said he’s excited to serve the community and “to serve in one of the best departments in the county.” He also said he is not in firefighting for the glory.
“I’m here to serve the community and that’s my job,” Austin said. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Angie said she does not feel too anxious about her son going to fight fires.
“They train them and whatnot,” Angie said, “but you’re always nervous a little bit. You’re nervous whenever you hear anyone go out, especially someone you know.”
Austin plans to take fire science classes at Hutchinson Community College in the fall.
Angie feels that having been involved with the fire department for so long will help Austin be prepared.
“I think anything that they do here is going to help and benefit him for that,” Angie said.
Austin also has donned the department Fire Pup costume, visiting elementary schools and teaching children fire safety tips.
With Austin being involved in the department for so long, Angie said it shows younger kids how they can also get involved.
“Him growing up and being attracted to that stuff, and now he’s doing this stuff and other kids are looking up to it,” Angie said. “It’s kind of a way for him to pay back a little bit.”