Volunteer firefighters Thomas Brodoski III, James “Jim” Fessler and David Myers all grew up at Norriton Fire Engine Company with their dads and other family members volunteering there. When Brodoski, Fessler and Myers turned 16, they all joined Norriton’s junior program to help their community and continue their family legacy.
Fessler, now 30, was inspired by his grandfather and father who both volunteered at Norriton and wanted to honor the tradition. “Volunteering was the best way I could think of to give back to the community,” he said.
At Norriton Fire Engine Company, firefighters always have each other’s backs to keep everyone safe. Brodoski, 23, wanted to make sure he had his father’s back when joining.
“Being at home and hearing the fire truck go by the house kept me wondering, what is he going to, and will he come back?” asked Brodoski. “I thought that once I join, I can watch him and make sure he does not get hurt so he can come home to our family.”
For Myers, 33, his dad, George Myers, serves as Norriton’s Chief. “I always have someone watching my back,” said Myers. “He will not hold back on me and make sure I learn from my mistakes.”
Juniors to Active Firefighters
As junior firefighters, Brodoski, Fessler and Myers handled exterior ground work. They assisted the drivers and interior firefighters by grabbing the tools they needed, running hoses, helping with water supply at the hydrant, laddering the building and other responsibilities, on top of managing school work. Brodoski and Fessler graduated from Norristown Area High School and Myers graduated from Kennedy Kenrick Catholic High School, which closed in 2010.
Although they could not enter burning buildings like active firefighters, age 18 or older, adults took them more seriously as junior firefighters. Fessler said they respected his level of commitment and his ability to take on challenging tasks.
Brodoski agreed. “The adults that knew I was a firefighter were proud of me for doing something for the community that I was living in and motivated me to be the best that I could be,” he said.
Brodoski, Fessler and Myers participated in Norriton’s bi-weekly drills with the other members and also took classes at the Montgomery County Fire Academy. Training and gear are provided at no cost and no prior experience is necessary to join the station. Once they had hundreds of hours of top-tier training under their belts, the juniors felt mentally and physically prepared to transition to active firefighters at 18.
As a firefighter, Myers gained many skills, including the ability to think outside the box and strategize multiple plans to solve problems on calls. “I enjoy having to figure out problems on the fly and that no call is the same,” he said.
Firefighters also pick up on safety precautions and gain awareness of their surroundings, such as learning the layout of the buildings they enter and always knowing two ways out of any room.
Norriton volunteers share a common goal of working as a team. Whether Brodoski is heading to a fire or car accident, he is glad to help someone on one of the worst days of his or her life, with a shared goal to keep the neighborhood safe.
Fessler shares a similar mindset and says this common goal makes him a better person outside the firehouse. “Even outside a fire call, if someone needs help, I’ll help them in a heartbeat.”
More than Firefighting
Norriton Fire Engine Company is known for being family-oriented and its members balance joking around with getting the job done. “We bust around on each other and have a great time, but when the bells go off, we all look after each other on the fireground to make sure that we all come home together,” said Brodoski.
Volunteering is about more than fighting fires for Brodoski, Fessler and Myers though. It is also about the community events like the Santa Run and East Norriton Township Community Day where they can interact with kids and neighbors.
“It is beyond the call of the sirens to me,” said Fessler. “When there is a community event where I can give something back – that’s what brings joy to me.”
The Need for Junior Volunteers
Junior firefighting looks great on college applications and can open doors of opportunities. “I was able to have a jump start on the college courses that I had completed in my fire training,” said Brodoski. He earned two associates’ degrees from Montgomery County Community College in liberal studies and fire science, and plans to get a bachelor’s degree in fire science from Holy Family University.
Volunteering also gives teenagers a sense of purpose. “It puts value into what you are doing with yourself and you are the one people call when they need help,” said Myers.
Juniors will forge friendships for a lifetime as well. “You build a bond that can’t be broken with the guys and gals in the firehouse,” said Myers.
Junior firefighters will make friendships with others in their age group who share their interest in giving back while also gaining wisdom from the older generation. “You can make friends with older generations and learn from them from their past, and how we as the new generation can come in and help make our community better,” said Brodoski.
As firefighters age, it becomes harder for them to keep up with the physical demands of firefighting and they begin to retire. Norriton Fire Engine Company needs juniors and young firefighters to replace them. “As generations come and go, we need to carry on the legacy and keep the fire company going,” said Fessler.
Additionally, Norriton Fire Engine Company needs more volunteers to keep up with their call volume. The station has consistently seen increases in calls with 526 in 2018, 544 in 2019 and expect an even higher number in 2020. Volunteer firefighters go to a variety of calls in the busy commercial and residential area of East Norriton Township and also assist the surrounding communities of Norristown, Plymouth Meeting and Blue Bell.
Norriton Fire Engine Company always welcomes more firefighters – both teens and adults. To learn more about the volunteer opportunities available, visit www.NorritonFire.org.