July 27, 2011
Firefighting tradition continues
Family ties abundant in 3-week county firefighter training course
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Homer Fire Chief Mahlon Irish Jr. gives firefighting advice to Tyler Zelsnack, right, and Pat Sherman who are both sons of local firefighters. They are taking part in Cortland County Fire and Emergency Management’s Summer Firefighter Boot Camp program.
HOMER — When Jordan and Tyler Zelsnack were growing up, they liked to pretend to be firefighters while playing in the basement of their Marathon home.
“We wanted to be like dad,” Jordan Zelsnack said, referring to their father, Jim.
Now 17 and 18, the brothers continued their training Tuesday at the Cortland County Department of Fire and Emergency Management three-week summer boot camp.
Jordan and Tyler, along with their cousin Justin, are carrying on a family tradition that started with their grandfather, Steve Sr., a volunteer with the Marathon Fire Department for over 40 years.
“They’ve shown interest since they were little kids,” Jim Zelsnack said.
Jim Zelsnack, along with his brother and Justin’s father Steve Jr., are members of the Cortland Fire Department.
Justin Zelsnack said even his mother’s side of the family has had a history of firefighting.
“It’s one of those things as a kid that you want to do,” Justin said.
Kevin Whitney, the deputy fire coordinator for Cortland County, said the program has been running for five years, but this year’s class is different — seven of the 11 trainees at the boot camp have fathers that are either in or retired from a local fire department.
“Once in a while you get people from the same family ... but not to the extent like this class,” Whitney said.
He said the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week job like firefighting means children grow up around the fire house and the firefighting culture.
He said even his two daughters, who are 4 and 5 years old, can name the different types of trucks.
Patrick Sherman, who will be a sophomore at Onondaga Community College majoring in fire protection technology, said he remembers his father being called to some of the bigger fires around Cortland County when he was a child.
Patrick’s father, Charlie Sherman, retired as Cortland Fire Department assistant chief in 2010.
“There’s not a better job in the world,” Charlie Sherman said.
Patrick Sherman said he knows he will have some big shoes to fill, while his father is happy to see Patrick following in his footsteps.
“What better honor could a father have?” Charlie Sherman asked.
The other trainees with family ties include Nick Potter, son of Truxton Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Potter; Nick Raponi, son of Ithaca firefighter Tom Raponi; and Joe Steinhoff, son of Cortlandville firefighter Joseph Steinhoff Sr.
The three-week boot camp ends Aug. 5, and for the recruits who make it, graduation will be Aug. 8. There have already been two trainees who did not meet the requirements to keep going with the program.
The trainees range in age from about 17 to 21, and are either in high school or college.
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