CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- Hundreds of aspiring firefighters are training at the fire institute, and officials say they make the future of the profession look bright.
As fire stations across the state face cuts and closures, organizers say young people passionate about fire fighting are as important as ever.
"My ultimate goal is to be a firefighter."
That's been Anthony Jackson's plan for years. His uncle is a fire chief and after riding along on calls and seeing him save lives, Jackson knew he wanted to follow suit.
"You're getting a call from those people probably on one of the worst days they're going to have in their life, so to help them, that gives me the best feeling."
Most people at the fire institute's annual cadet training share that passion. They say, after all, fire service isn't something you go into for the money.
"Firefighting is a challenging profession to keep people in. Most departments in the state of Illinois, about 73 to 75 percent of them are volunteer. And it's really hard to keep volunteers in departments."
Officials said there's a reason so many departments are volunteer-based.
"A lot of that's coming back to the state budget. And even the institute is going to suffer cuts because of the state budget."
But fire service isn't down and out. More than 200 people, age 14 through 20 attended this year's institute. Officials said that bodes well for filling those high-turnover positions.
"One of the ways of doing that is getting them early and letting them get caught by the bug of the fire service and understanding that it is a meaningful and rewarding career."
And Jackson said that's what the institute has done for him. He said firefighting is in his future, no matter what.
"If the pay comes, then that's a plus, but the feeling that I get when I help somebody when they need some serious help on probably one of the worst day of their life, that gives me the best feeling that I can ever have."