Sometimes one must take the long way around to land at the doorstep of one’s dreams.
Drew Shilling, a firefighter and advanced EMT with the Warsaw Fire Department, took that route, plowing a decade-long path of steady persistence, “doing a little bit of everything” before settling into his “very rewarding career.”
After graduating from Whitko High School in 2000, Shilling took some business classes at Manchester University and Ivy Tech before realizing “that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go.”
He worked as a mechanic, fed veal calves and was employed as a production foreman for a company that made long-handled outdoor tools.
All the while, Shilling served as a volunteer firefighter with the Claypool Fire Department where he received the bulk of his training.
“It was kind of tough being away from my family, working a job during the day and training at night and not getting paid for it,” he said. His family includes his wife, Loranna; son Drake, 8; and 4-year-old daughter Kennedy.
“I applied all over” to become a full-time firefighter, he said. “I’m happy I got hired here. Kosciusko County is home for me.”
Shilling followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, who served as fire chief for the department in South Whitley, and his brother, Derek, a 12-year veteran of the Warsaw department who presented Drew with his official firefighter’s pin at his swearing-in ceremony.
Shilling is very satisfied with striking vocational pay dirt and plans to stay put for a while.
“There is no other place I would rather be right now,” said the 34-year-old Silver Lake resident.
“I enjoy the camaraderie. When we come into work we don’t know what we are going to be doing that day. I enjoy being able to make a difference.”
“When people call us, they are not having a good day,” Shilling said in a classic understatement. “We can improve their situation that day.”
Shilling cited a couple examples where he finds fulfillment in his job, beginning with “my first CPR save that we had.”
The “we,” by the way, is instinctive, and Shilling uses the pronoun without hesitation. “Everything we do here is as a team. It is never and individual thing.”
During the CPR incident, “it is obviously clear we made a different in that man’s life and his family in that they could spend more time together.”
During another emergency response, the department battled a house fire. “On the way out we grabbed some of the family pictures,” he said. Even though the family watched their house go up in flames, “they were happy we saved those memories.”
Shilling works a 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off shift at Fire Station 1 in downtown Warsaw. “We’re getting busier and busier responding to medical calls,” he said, noting “it is not uncommon to get six or seven calls during a shift.”
That still means a lot of down time, but down time for an emergency responder does not mean just waiting for the call signal. “We are always ready to respond, always in prepared mode,” said Shilling. Down time is regularly punctuated with work outs “to keep our bodies in shape” for unknown and challenging tasks.
His advice to anyone considering a career in emergency service: “Stay with it and do everything in your power to make that dream come true.”