By Vinny Reda (April 17, 2007)
Student Firefighters Boost Local Force
As a University at Albany freshman on Indian Quad in 2003, Joseph Zambon observed admiringly whenever the McKownville Volunteer Fire Department responded to emergencies. A year later, as a Resident Assistant (RA), he witnessed McKownville on yet another Indian Quad call. This time, he approached a fireman and said he wanted to become a volunteer himself.
Zambon's overture set in motion a virtual parade of Indian Quad residents stepping up to bolster the local force, whose firehouse is on Western Avenue a short distance from the UAlbany campus. A total of 17 students have enlarged McKownville's ranks, 14 currently.
Referred to Chief David Clancy, Zambon was instructed to attend his first drill the following Monday and pick up an application. Fellow RA Matt Giaquinto joined him, and both signed on as members of the relatively small, fully volunteer organization, established in 1918 to aid a sector of Guilderland just south of what is now the Uptown Campus. The fire district's borders were eventually expanded to take in areas in and around Chapel House, SEFCU Arena and Indian Quad.
Within a month after Zambon and Giaquinto joined up, two more RAs, Ara McMahon and Tom Roberts, followed. After six months as probationary firefighters, all became full members.
Balancing the training with schoolwork was a challenge at first. "As an atmospheric science major in my fourth semester, I was hauling a difficult course load," said Zambon. "Balancing that with a rigorous 'Firefighter 1' course and my RA duties, I came to rely very much on time management to keep my head above water."
After successfully completing the Firefighter 1 program, both Zambon and Giaquinto became Class A Interior Firefighters, meaning they could enter buildings in the critical first 10-15 minutes of a fire, when the chance of saving lives inside is the greatest. Next, they completed driver qualification, allowing them to drive apparatus to the scene.
In 2005 and 2006, five other Indian Quad residents became probationary firefighters for McKownville, and three others became members on service loan — volunteers who are members of departments in their hometowns but serve McKownville while attending UAlbany.
"The McKownville fire department has been kind of a home and second family for me," said Michael Rothschild, who as a freshman in 2005 not only joined the department but founded a new fencing club at the University. "The support that I and other UAlbany students get is remarkable. McKownville places a very high emphasis on education, and Chief Clancy always says 'school comes first,' so that helps me balance the time.
"Volunteering here gives you a great sense of pride that you are making a difference in the community and UAlbany at the same time. I could not have picked a better school and community then McKownville and UAlbany."
The influx of Indian Quad members this year compelled department officials to limit applications for new firefighters. "Unlike other departments in the area and the country, our volunteerism is on the upswing, and that's because of the UAlbany students," said Clancy. "They are a great group of guys, very active in training, very responsive and hard-working, always showing up for drills and fully participating. We're very fortunate to have them."
Zambon said such dedication is only right. "We students are happy to have found a way for the University to give back," he said.