A sister among brothers

Firefighter Kristine Jennings, senior in LAS, rests for a moment as other firefighters from the Carroll Fire Protection District fold up a hose following a training evolution at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, 11 Gerty Dr., in Champaign Monday, Oct. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

Firefighter Kristine Jennings, senior in LAS, rests for a moment as other firefighters from the Carroll Fire Protection District fold up a hose following a training evolution at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, 11 Gerty Dr., in Champaign Monday, Oct. Beck Diefenbach The Daily Illini

By Beck Diefenbach

There is an empty pair of smaller than average boots in front of a locker at the Carroll Fire station. Above it hangs all of the equipment a firefighter needs, ready to be donned. The equipment awaits its owner, a firefighter who is studying for finals.

Those boots belong to volunteer firefighter Kristine Jennings.

“Volunteering is always something that I’ve done,” she says.

As a full-time student at the University, a part-time EMS technician for Arrow Ambulance and flag-girl for the Marching Illini, it is a wonder that Kristine has the time to volunteer for Carroll Fire.

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    Kristine follows in a long family line of servicemen and servicewomen, consisting of Chicago Police officers as well as firefighters in stations throughout the Midwest. With firefighting in her blood, volunteering was not that difficult of a choice.

    When she began training more than two years ago, things weren’t quite so easy. Kristine struggled with tasks such as the heavy lifting required of a firefighter.

    “Everything is going to be easier for the guys,” she says. “I’m not going to be able to do it their way; you have to figure out your own way.”

    Kristine learned that she had to develop her own technique to complete basic tasks because of her stature. For instance, she has learned to use her lower body strength by lifting with her legs and hips, not her arms.

    Chief Steve Thuney observed her struggling from the beginning.

    “She had to overcome more obstacles because of her lack of upper body strength,” he said. “But she never let it be an excuse.”

    A smaller stature is not the only wall Kristine faces during the time she spends serving the community. Sometimes she feels the need to separate herself from the group to process criticism of her performance.

    Firefighter Icem Cook of Urbana also volunteers for Carroll Fire. He knows that due to the family atmosphere of the station, tensions sometimes get high.

    “You gotta grow thick skin here,” he says.

    Familial bonds are visible between Kristine and other firefighters in the department. She has come to rely greatly on her friendship with firefighter J.D. Liggett, junior in Aviation.

    “J.D. is the brother you can laugh with,” she says. “But he’ll look out for you in the end.”

    Kristine is able to bring to Carroll Fire what most other departments cannot provide. Chief Thuney believes that a woman on the department brings something valuable.

    “There is a great benefit to diversity,” says Thuney.

    In a time when Chief Thuney sees a decline in devotion of most people, he is thankful to have someone like Kristine so eager to work.

    “Kristine has an immense amount of loyalty,” he says. “If you need help, she is there.”

    Despite her obstacles, Kristine takes a great deal of satisfaction in what she accomplishes as a volunteer firefighter.

    “I can lift a lot more than you think,” she says. “There hasn’t been anything I can’t do.”