Matthew Gerrits is a firm believer in the benefits of a technical college education. So much so, in fact, that the former Fox Valley Technical College (FVTC) student is now an adjunct instructor in the Fire Protection program at his alma mater.
After graduating high school, Gerrits chose to attend Fox Valley Technical College for two reasons. First, it was close to home, which for him was Kaukauna. Second, it was one of the few postsecondary institutions that offered the fire protection program, which was what he wanted to pursue. “Once I thought about Fox Valley as an option I began to learn about all of the positive experiences that people had with the school, specifically the fire program,” Gerrits explains.
At age 15 Gerrits decided he wanted to work in a field that helped people. The job that first fulfilled this drive was as a lifeguard for the City of Kaukauna. “I worked there for five years including while attending FVTC,” he explains. “As a lifeguard, I worked with the daughter of a fire chief who explained the career of a firefighter. I knew from that moment that firefighting was the right choice for me.”
His experience at FVTC ultimately confirmed that ambition. “Based upon the quality instruction and exciting learning opportunities I became even more excited,” he says. “The education also provided me with a set of skills and knowledge that assisted me in landing a job as a firefighter.”
“The technical education was very valuable to me,” he continues. “The biggest benefit was the ability to combine traditional classroom education and have ample opportunities to apply that knowledge on the training grounds. I learn best through the use of multiple teaching methods and this program offered that.”
After graduating from FVTC with his associate degree in Fire Protection, Gerrits began the paramedic program the next semester, hoping to make himself even more employable. In December of 2000, he was hired by the City of Cudahy as a Motor Pump Operator/Emergency Medical Technician. In May of 2003, he returned home to the Fox Valley and began working for the City of Appleton Fire Department (AFD) and has been there ever since. In 2012, he started his role as an adjunct instructor at FVTC.
As a member of AFD, he provides services in areas such as water rescue, hazardous materials response, trench rescue, building collapse, rope rescue, emergency medical response, public education, code enforcement and many others. As a firefighter, “I enjoy that each day is different from the last,” he says. “The job is way more than just firefighting.”
His technical college education also helped open the door to other educational opportunities. “Both my bachelor’s degree and the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program require an associate degree as prerequisites and also provided me with a building block from which I could grow,” he explains.
At AFD, Gerrits was recently promoted to Driver/Engineer and is also an Acting Company Officer. As for the future, “I have experience as a training officer and would possibly like to move into a chief officer role when the time is right for me personally and professionally,” he concludes.