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Fights fires, finds her purpose


The first thing firefighters do after reaching the scene of a fire is a 360-degree assessment to identify everything and everyone involved. AJ Kurtzer had done a similar assessment of her life while working on her master’s degree in management, but she didn’t come full circle until she became a firefighter herself.

In 2009, AJ, her husband and their three children moved to an acreage outside of Cortland, Nebraska, a small town a few miles south of Lincoln on U.S. Highway 77. Communities of this size often are described as close-knit. That tighter weave can be tough for newcomers to penetrate.

AJ’s idea for meshing with the community would occur only to someone with a desire to serve. She decided to join the volunteer fire department in 2012.

She had to choose between training to be a firefighter or an EMT. She chose the latter after learning about 60 percent of the department’s calls are medical.

When she’s not responding to medical calls or fighting fires, AJ works her day job, focusing on training and development at Ameritas Investment Corp.

“I’m grateful that Ameritas is devoted to developing people,” she said.

Thanks to the company’s supportive atmosphere and tuition reimbursement program, AJ decided to go for a master’s degree “to improve myself.”

AJ completed her EMT training in 2013 and her master’s degree in 2014, earning her Firefighter I certification a short time later. Today, she’s also a trainer with the State Fire Marshall’s office.

But AJ’s circle wasn’t complete until after telling her mother about becoming a firefighter.

“I said, ‘Guess what, Mom? I’m a firefighter.’ And she said, ‘I don’t think I ever told you, but when you were a little girl, you used to say you wanted to be a firefighter.’”

A few weeks later, AJ’s mother presented her with a framed firefighter’s certificate from 1938 awarded to her grandfather, Cecil Horton. Her mom had found the certificate one day while cleaning house.

It’s now displayed on AJ’s bedside table.

“Every morning, I wake up and know my purpose.”