Matt Burke, 43, never realized that he was a part of a family of firefighters when he was younger. But when he turned 18, something inside of him pushed him to want to make firefighting as he career choice.
Burke studied at Moraine Valley Community College when he became a paid-on-call firefighter.
“When I was hired, my mother was so proud and she started to tell me about all of the relatives and cousins in our family who were firefighters, too,” Burke recalled.
“I kind of knew that but it really didn’t hit me until I actually put on the uniform how important the decision was that I had made in my life.”
Burke said he doesn’t regret the choice at all.
“Being a firefighter looked like an exciting career. I wanted to help people. It was always inside me and I really enjoy the challenge,” Burke said.
Burke left the North Palos Fire District after two years and joined the Palos Fire District where he spent 10 years in uniform. While working part-time at Palos, he started testing for full-time firefighter/paramedic positions. After many tests, he was hired by Chicago Ridge Fire Department. Less than two years later, he received a call from the Orland Fire Protection District that he was part of the next hiring list. He then became a full-time employee with them. During the first year, he also joined the Evergreen Fire Department as a part-time firefighter/paramedic.
“I did most of my major training and received some of my certifications and education at the Palos Fire District. I completed the rest of my certifications at Orland Fire District,” Burke said, noting it is not easy to become a firefighter.
“It really is about training and education. I tested at all of the fire departments that I worked at and received a lot of hands-on training. It’s very competitive. We’re constantly training. I just came back from a training session today on dealing with cardiac issues.”
Firefighters are tested for mental aptitude, physical agility and psychological stamina. And after completing this testing he was hired in May of 1994 by the Orland Fire Protection District.
Most firefighters are cross trained as paramedics. It’s common in the suburbs and it’s especially true here in the Orland Fire Protection District. I trained to be a paramedic while at Palos Fire District and graduated in June of 1990.
As a firefighter, Burke says he faces many challenges in the day-to-day routine of fighting fires, responding to trauma calls and all kinds of emergencies.
Even when he is off-duty, Burke says, he is prepared for anything.
“Last May, my wife and I were coming home from a vacation on Southwest Airlines. We were about an hour in to the return trip when the flight attendants announced on the intercom on the plane asking for anyone with medical training,” Burke recalled.
“They asked if anyone was a doctor or had medical training to put their call light on. I put mine on and then got up from my seat and walked toward the part of the plane where the flight attendants were gathered around the passenger.”
Apparently, a woman who worked at the Aurora Fire Department had fainted. Her pulse was barely noticeable, Burke remembered.
“She was sweating profusely and she was white as a sheet. We didn’t know what happened,” Burke said. “She looked in trouble.”
Burke said his paramedic training immediately kicked in. The flight attendants got a doctor on the airplane headset and Burke described who he was and his training. He advised that the passenger needed an IV and the doctor agreed.
“We picked her up and laid her across three seats with her feet elevated to get her blood circulating through her body,” Burke said. “I then started the IV. You could barely feel her pulse. We were concerned. But she was revived and we sat with her and spoke with her for the remaining part of the trip.”
Burke said the plane landed at Midway Airport about two hours later and she was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she was treated.
“I always wondered how she was,” Burke said. “She was very grateful that we could help her.”
Burke says that the additional training he received helped prepare him to respond to any emergency he encounters, either at work, at home or while traveling.
Nearly all of the Orland Fire Protection District firefighters are trained as paramedics, he said.
“I’m always ready to help to someone in need. You have to be as a firefighter,” Burke said.
Burke currently holds the rank of engineer. He is the driver for Truck Four, the Ladder. His wife is Heather and they have three children, Reilly Lynn, 13, Quinn, 10, and Morgan, 9.