2017 Public Educator of the Year (Career)

Erik Jonas, Marshfield Fire Department

By Pete Wicklund

There’s nothing wrong with the tried and true, but sometimes a fresh perspective can reinvigorate a fire safety education program.

That’s what the Marshfield Fire Department found out when it named Erik Jonas as the department’s fire prevention coordinator. In recognition of Erik’s work to bring safety and fire prevention education to all ages in Marshfield, the WSFIA bestowed Erik with a Public Educator of the Year award at the Fire Prevention Professionals Conference in late October in Green Bay.

“The Marshfield Fire and Rescue Department Public Education Committee has been extremely active for the past 20-plus years,” wrote Marshfield Fire Chief Scott Owen. “Approximately 13 years ago, the department switched to a clown skit format for all the elementary schools (public and private) in the Marshfield area. That program ran for 10 years and has since been stopped primarily due to ‘aging clowns.'”

Owen said the department went through a series of changes with the committee leadership and looked into changing the program. Erik became the committee chair and wanted the program to be more personal and a one-on-one with the students in their own classrooms.

Chief Owen said that Erik met with members of the school administration, School Board, and teachers to discuss his ideas and get their input. Through this process, Erik was able to get buy-in from administration (including the principals, which has not always been easy) and began working on the new program format.

In 2016, Erik, along with several members of the committee, implemented a program in which members of the public education committee met with each elementary classroom over the course of several weeks and taught the students the important fire safety messages once done in group settings.

“This proved to be extremely popular with the children as well as the teachers and school administrators,” Owen said. “Through this program, we as an organization have strengthened our relationship with the schools, school administration and, most importantly, the children.”

For the 2017-18 school year, the Public Education Committee expanded its outreach efforts to also include junior high and high school students.

Members of the committee particularly want students graduating high school to take fire prevention and safety lessons with them as they go off to college and/or living on their own.

“I would rather provide them with hands-on skills that they can use to foster their own safety while off at college,” Erik said, talking about his interactive approach with the students, with skills such as how to and when to use a fire extinguisher.

“Most students currently do not get any type of fire safety education after the sixth grade and this is concerning to members of the department,” Owen said. “Erik is working with committee members to build the program and we are excited to see what this year will bring for public education in Marshfield.”

Erik has worked for 10 years as a line firefighter/paramedic for Marshfield. Prior to that, right out of paramedic school, he worked as a paramedic for a private ambulance service in the Twin Cities.

Being nominated by Owen for the award was a surprise.

“I didn’t know I was put in for it and it was definitely a humbling award to win but I view it as a win for our department and our community,” Erik said.

He is also quick to share the praise with the other members of his committee.

“This award, I feel, is a great representation of the hard work that my team puts in,” Erik said. “I’m just the guy who was granted the opportunity to put a team together and they have worked very hard and are dedicated to what they do to provide the educational opportunities to all levels. Everything I’ve achieved couldn’t have been done without them.”