For Cedar Rapids firefighter Julie Popelka, signing up to participate in the department's Citizens Fire Academy was the moment that changed her life. "I had been asked over and over by friends and co-workers if I had ever considered working at the fire department, and I knew nothing about the fire department," she said. "You know a lot of people get involved in the fire department because they have a family tie in the department, and I had none of that." At the time — 2001 — Popelka was working long days in a warehouse doing work that consisted mostly of heavy lifting, and though she didn't mind the work, her curiosity about firefighting was piqued. "So I just did the Citizens Fire Academy to see what it was all about and after that I was hooked," she said. "It gave me a better idea of what firefighters do and a taste of what I would be signing up for." And that's exactly what the citizen’s academy is designed to do.