Scalise shares his experience at the academy and how he got his start with Palmyra’s Independence Fire Department
By Stephen Finn
On Jan. 8, Frank Scalise was honored at his graduation from the Burlington County Fire Academy Firefighter One Program. Looking back, he says he never expected to come this far with firefighting.
Scalise joined Palmyra’s Independence Fire Department last April. He needed service hours before graduating high school and volunteering at his local fire department seemed like an easy way to complete them.
“At the time, I didn’t think of the fire department as a long-term commitment, but after I was there a few weeks it turned into something I could possibly want to do for the rest of my life,” said Scalise. “It really pulled me in, the camaraderie, the leadership and skills that you learn.”
According to Scalise, after some time working with the department, they told him they thought he had shown his commitment and responsibility and felt he was ready to attend the fire academy.
“It’s history from there, and I’ve been loving it,” said Scalise.
He has always been familiar with firefighters and has cousins who currently work with the Cinnaminson Fire Department. They encouraged him to look into getting involved with his local department.
“Down the line of history there’s been a lot of firefighters in our family. It’s been something that has always been in the back of my mind,” said Scalise.
Scalise considers his family to be “old school” and steeped in tradition. He hopes to someday pass on a tradition of volunteering to his own children.
“A lot of people don’t volunteer anymore and I think that’s a shame,” said Scalise.
During his time studying at the fire academy, Scalise learned a lot about leadership and community. According to Scalise, there is a lot of knowledge one is expected to absorb before graduating. Much of what he learned could mean the difference between life and death for someone in an emergency situation so it was extremely important graduates take what they learn with them into the field.
Drills at the fire academy are called “evolutions.” Scalise says about 20 percent of the work at the academy happens in a classroom and 80 percent is outdoor, hands-on learning. Evolutions can involve simulated scenarios, like running into burning buildings, rescuing victims and climbing up and down a 32-foot ladder.
“It was a lot of physical work, and when I first joined I wasn’t used to the physically demanding work that it would require,” said Scalise. “I joined at 215 pounds and I lost 45 pounds in fire school, it was a lot of work.”
Scalise acknowledges the risks involved in firefighting but was undeterred when he was told about the “hundred ways you can die in the fire services,” during an initial meeting with academy personnel. His parents were in attendance at the meeting and were a little more hesitant listening to the risks involved.
“Every single call that you go to there’s always that possibility that something could go wrong and that’s why you go through training. As soon as something goes wrong, the training that they teach you kicks in and the knowledge you retain is there to save people’s lives,” said Scalise.
Scalise plans to stay with the Palmyra Fire Department for as long as he can and continue taking classes at the academy to advance his education and experience in emergency response. He is currently looking at a 9–1–1 dispatcher course at Rowan College.
“Something they say at the academy is ‘you never stop learning, you will never know everything,’ and I believe that wholeheartedly,” said Scalise.