MENOMONEE FALLS - It is rare to meet a ninth-grader who has their future all figured out.
Yet that is exactly the impression Menomonee Falls High School Counselor Jenny Thom said she got upon meeting Erika Virnig.
“Erika has lived, breathed and dreamed about becoming a firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) from the day I met her in ninth grade,” Thom said. “It’s rare to meet someone in ninth grade who has it all figured out for their career and actually follows through.”
And follow through she has done.
Virnig, 18, recently completed her EMT and Fire 1 certifications through the Youth Options program at Waukesha County Technical College. The program allows students to take courses at a Wisconsin college that their high school doesn’t offer.
For Virnig, her coursework has led her to obtain certifications before even graduating from high school.
“Erika has truly shined in her WCTC courses,” Thom said. “It is obvious this is her calling in life.”
The calling began young for Virnig, who said she’s known since she was a little girl this is exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since it was little me running around going to the fire station in kindergarten,” she explained. “Any time we went to visit a state or city, we always got a tour of a fire station, and I always pictured myself being that grownup giving tours someday.”
Virnig grew up in what she lovingly calls a “firefighter family.”
“I grew up going to the fire station and seeing my dad respond to calls,” she recalled. “Then there was this sense of family at the station. The firefighters were like brothers and dads to me.”
If there was even the slightest doubt about her career choice, Virnig said it was reaffirmed when she lost a close friend to suicide during her sophomore year.
“I couldn’t help but think maybe if I got into this career I might be able to help prevent something like that from happening,” she said. “I really want to help people so this is how I’m going to do it.”
After graduation, Virnig has been selected for a three-year live-in internship with the Western Lakes Fire District, an honor she said she owes, in part, to all of the support she has received.
“What I’ve learned is if you have a dream or something you want to do with your life, there are always people around to help make your dreams into a reality,” she said.