DALLAS — On a recent evening, a group of Misercoridia University students gathered after class, not simply to chat or study, but to prepare fire department equipment for service.
The students are part of a program that encourages students of the university to become volunteer firefighters and emergency responders with the Back Mountain Regional Fire & EMS service.
Brandon Coletti, head of recruitment and retention, was a firefighter as a student at Misericordia and, when he graduated, wanted to continue to encourage students to volunteer at the department, as an opportunity to both assist the community and build a resume.
Junior Ed Warunek remembers one of his first calls that ultimately found him pouring water on a structure to ensure it did not reignite.
Warunek said he was working as an emergency responder when a firefighter from another department said, “Hey, are you a firefighter?”
Warunek, who was still in training, said, “No.”
The other firefighter said, “Well, you are tonight.”
Warunek, not able to enter a structure until he was fully trained, was able to work from atop the ladder truck
“It was a rush,” he said.
Many of the 25 student volunteers have are studying in nursing or other health-related majors, but not all of them.
Jose Gonzalez is a junior accounting major.
“As a freshman, I was going through the club fair the university held and I was interested,” he said. “First as an EMT and then as a firefighter.”
Gonzalez remembers his first house fire, climbing on top of a ladder.
“I made the front page of a local newspaper,” he said.
When asked, the student volunteers provide a variety of reasons for volunteering — networking, learning, building relationships — many of them credit one foundational factor Brandon Coletti.
“I joined, well, because of Coletti,” said Warunek.
At 26, Coletti, with about 10 years of experience, seems to be both a mentor and friend to student volunteers.
Isabella Camayd, a sophomore nursing student from Clark Summit, has volunteered with emergency services in her home town.
As a freshman at Misericordia, she admitted volunteering with the local fire department would provide her with an opportunity for camaraderie and experience.
“I’m thinking about become an emergency room nurse,” she said. “So this is perfect.”
In addition to building relationships and gaining skills, the 25 student firefighters also have a lot of fun.
“One night they woke me up with an air horn at 2:00 in the morning,” said Gonzalez. “With an air horn.”
Gonzalez lives at the fire house near the fire department reserved for student firefighters.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” he said. “But, I laughed about it in the morning.”
Sophomore nursing student John Merrifield said volunteering at the fire department has defined his college career.
“These are some of the most amazing people to be around,” he said. “And it helps us get to know members of the community. We participate in a variety of events like the Fall Festival and trunk-or-treat.”
Coletti, who graduated from the university in 2016 and was a volunteer since the age of 16, finds overseeing the students fun and rewarding.
“Fire departments all over are hurting for volunteers,” he said. “So this is a win-win.”