firefighter spraying water with a hose

From Healthcare to Firefighting: A CCU Student's Journey

Lanell Arnoux, a 25-year-old Colorado Christian University (CCU) student, is no stranger to challenging situations. From dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic on the frontlines to fighting wildfires as a member of the Blackfeet Fire Rescue Department, Arnoux has shown resilience and dedication in every aspect of her life. Despite the hectic nature of her new role as a firefighter, she finds fulfillment in serving her community of Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Her first week on the job saw her battling a two-story structure fire, and subsequent days involved search and rescue missions in deep canyons.

Arnoux's journey hasn't been an easy one. After dropping out of high school, she left and returned to her hometown multiple times before deciding to complete her GED. She was drawn to CCU for its diversity and Christ-centered education, which resonated with her desire to make a positive impact on the world. Currently studying Psychology, Arnoux hopes to use her knowledge to address the lack of mental health resources in her community, especially for first responders dealing with trauma and PTSD. Balancing her studies with her roles as a preschool teacher and firefighter, Arnoux exemplifies the power of determination and consistency. Despite her demanding schedule, she still plans to enjoy life by traveling and hiking, all while working towards her degree with CCU.

Original Article published in CCU's Beyond Magazine

It’s not in Lanell Arnoux to back down. It doesn’t matter if she’s comforting a toddler or taking a test, soothing someone in need or taming a wildfire, she’s going to see it through to the end.

N-95 masks. Face shields. Scrubs. Head-to-toe personal protective equipment for days on end.

The COVID-19 pandemic was not easy on anyone, but for healthcare workers on the frontlines, it was a daily battle. As a certified nursing assistant, Colorado Christian University student Lanell Arnoux faced that heat head-on, but as she started to face burnout she decided to step out of the fire.

And she stepped into the firehouse.

“I wanted a more ‘relaxing’ job, so this past summer I went to our local fire department and joined them,” Arnoux said.

That’s right.

Arnoux, a 25-year-old studying Psychology through CCU’s College of Adult and Graduate Studies, who works at a preschool during the day, joined the Blackfeet Fire Rescue Department in her hometown of 1,007 people in Browning, Montana on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation as “a way to relax.”

Her first week on the job, Arnoux was called to a two-story structure fire that took six hours and 500 feet of firehose to combat.

“They threw me right on the hose, and I had just joined four days before,” said Arnoux, who wouldn’t have had it any other way.

A couple of days after that, Arnoux was called to a search and rescue in a nearly 2,800 feet deep canyon by Mittens Lake near Hamilton, Montana.

“There are plenty of times where I’ve thought this new schedule isn’t as relaxing as it was meant to be,” Arnoux said . “It’s pretty hard juggling (work, school, and firefighting), and sometimes I need to take a break. But if I’m not in healthcare, in the community helping, or working with kids, I’m not happy.”

Happiness wasn’t always in the cards for Arnoux.

After dropping out of high school, she left the reservation five times only to find herself right back in her hometown a short time later. But every setback – school, work, leaving home – turned out to be a bump in the road and fueled Arnoux’s desire to finish what she started.

“I’m honestly proud of myself,” she said. “It took a few years, but I got my GED. Then I was surfing the web one night, researching colleges, and I was drawn to CCU because of the diversity. It interested me that it was Christ-centered. Then I saw the mission statement:

"Christ-centered higher education transforming students to impact the world with grace and truth."

“I knew I needed to go here,” she said.

Arnoux said she was drawn to psychology because of the knowledge it shared and the way the subject pertains to human interaction. As a preschool teacher, she has taken advantage of information about human development to make a positive impact on infants and toddlers in her care; however, it has also helped her make an impact on the fire department where she sees stress and trauma impact both the people which the department is called to aid and the firefighters themselves who experience some pretty harrowing events.

“When I [studied] cognitive behaviors, it really helped me with techniques in the classroom setting, specifically nature and nurture,” she said.

In a community lacking in mental health resources, Arnoux has found opportunity to impact an entire community for the better.

“On the reservation, there isn’t anyone who really specializes in trauma, PTSD, or mental health for first responders,” she said. “We’ll have doctors or psychiatrists talk to us about different topics like suicide, drugs, or alcohol; but they don’t talk to us about things that pertain to us as first responders. We shut out what the therapists were saying because it didn’t relate to what we do.

“When I finish my degree, I can make an impact because of the way I will be able to relate to first responders. That’s what I’m really passionate about now. If I could picture myself five years from now, I’d have my own practice working with adults who are dealing with PTSD, grief, and trauma.”

Arnoux is currently working toward completing her bachelor’s degree through CAGS, which for the foreseeable future includes balancing two others jobs, in addition to her coursework. So, for Arnoux, time management is key and the secret to her success.

“One challenge is being consistent,” she said. “When you’re online, you have more flexibility and freedom, but you have to be consistent and disciplined in dedicating time to studying.”

Her week typically starts out Sundays with a goal of getting 60% of the weekly required reading complete before clocking in at the preschool Monday morning. A typical day there runs from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., pouring her energy into children, immediately followed by being on call for the rest of the evening and on weekends at the fire department. Arnoux can continue working on reading assignments or homework, unless she is called to an incident.

“We’re a small department, but we’ve been keeping busy,” she said. “Typically, we’ll get called to bigger cities around us to help out, and our calls seem to run in groups of three or fou. In my town, most of our calls seem to come in the summer when it’s hottest or in winter when it’s coldest. We had a call to a structure fire that we ended up having to let go to the flames because it was minus-20 degrees out and our hoses were freezing.”

Despite Arnoux’s busy lifestyle, she still makes time to enjoy and explore, with plans to take time this spring and summer to travel, hike, and build in some truly relaxing adventures. Fortunately, she is able to keep her degree goals on track, and CCU will be going with her.

“I want to get away from the little country and bad winters for a bit, but where I go has to have Wi-Fi so I can keep up with my classes,” she said. “At first I was scared I wouldn’t get the help I needed, but CCU gives you everything you need to succeed.”

And succeed she will with the same strength and determination that saw her take on and defeat fires. Next up? Finals.

This article was originally published in Beyond Magazine by Colorado Christian University.

Are you inspired by Lanell's story? Take the next step toward pursuing your passion with a degree from CCU by connecting with an Enrollment Counselor today!

Learn More