Being fireman not in plan, but…

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – Almost 20 years ago, Rick Paraschak earned his Emergency Medical Technician certificate and began volunteering for the Naples Fire and Rescue Department (NFRD).

Last month during an annual dinner, Paraschak received the “Firefighter of The Year” award in acknowledgement of his accomplishments with his hometown fire department.

Eighteen years ago, the engineer with the state transportation department was married and raising a family. His then-wife was very active with her EMT work. In addition, the couple’s neighbors were also EMTs. It seemed like a good move to join the EMT club, especially since the group already had many of the same interests and enjoyed doing things together, he said.

“I guess you could say my ex-wife led me toward this field,” Paraschak said.

FIREFIGHTER OF THE YEAR — Rick Paraschak stands in front of a ladder truck in the Naples Fire and Rescue Department’s garage. He received the 2010 Firefighter of the Year award. (De Busk Photo)

The Paraschaks have two children — a son and a daughter. So, Rick’s volunteer work (over the years) has also included Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

What most prompted him to sit through that first EMT course “was the desire to do community service, and the wanting to do and give back to the community,” he said.

His certificate requires an update every three years. On a weekly basis, he volunteers about 10 hours.

“Once I realized I could help the community through volunteering for the fire department, I gained that passion for being an emergency rescue person, and, then, a firefighter. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a fireman,” he said.

Trained to handle emergency situations — and having an aptitude for that type of work — Paraschak entered into a community of men and women who volunteer for their local fire department. It is a family of people Paraschak is proud to be included in. Through the NFRD, he’s had a chance to utilize his skills and talents — doing things he enjoys like fundraising events to benefit the department.

The third-generation Ukrainian (both grandmothers came to America through Ellis Island) said fundraisers make him proud to live in Naples. He values the supportive relationship between the residents and the fire and rescue volunteers.

“During our Christmas tree fundraiser, many people in the community decide they need to buy a tree for Christmas, and they would make a point to buy one from us. There is camaraderie between the residents and the fire department that I see and appreciate,” he said. He witnesses that same public support during town events like the Fourth of July celebrations and the upcoming Naples Winter Carnival.

“The (NFRD) food booth attracts people. They buy food from us because they want to give back to the fire department. They know it’s fundraising that’s going back into their community. I think it really helps the community bond, so to speak,” Paraschak said.

When Paraschak came into the station on Saturday, the parking lot was full. Inside, about 40 people were assembled for a training session. As fire jackets were pulled on, the towns written across the backs included Fryeburg, Norway, Paris and Naples.

From the second-floor recreation room, a horizontal window reveals the garage below. A traditional fireman’s pole is roped off, and the hole down to the first floor is covered by “doors” that are bolted shut.

“The title of the award is a bit misleading: Firefighter,” Paraschak said of his recent recognition.

“I’m not the best firefighter. When it comes to a structure fire, and it’s myself and three younger guys, I am not going to be the one doing the interior firefighting work. I’ll send in the younger guys because they’re in better physical shape and they’re quicker,” he said, adding he sometimes takes a supervisory role or runs the equipment.

“The award takes into consideration the EMT background, too. I think it’s awarded to an all-around member, someone who can do a variety of jobs, someone who is well-rounded,” he said.

“EMT skills could come into play in all situations, including a fire call. A firefighter could get injured. If we are responding to a car wreck, there could be multiple injuries,” Paraschak said.

Paraschak said some of the projects he has worked on include: fire suppression installation, the driver-trainer program, keeping the department in line with requirements for federal funding, and grassroots fundraisers for the department.

When it was certain the Bay of Naples Bridge and Causeway construction would happen, Paraschak was among those who made certain a water pipeline would be installed. Although costs forced the town to omit some of the original details, an underground water main will provide the fire department with a viable water source. In the future, businesses along the Causeway will have the opportunity to hook up — gaining fire suppression and possibly accessing potable water.

Through the driver-trainer program trainings, volunteers gain versatility as they become capable of operating the equipment on the department’s various rigs. In addition, NFRD adheres to insurance policy requirements.

Regarding politics on the federal level and qualifying for much-needed grant money, Paraschak said, “I’m instrumental in informing the department of what needs to be done. If we don’t do the right training, the department doesn’t get the grants.”

“What I like is fundraising: The Christmas Tree sales, the comedy night. By fundraising, we bring in a little extra money so that we don’t burden the town’s taxpayers as much,” he said. “The community spirit really comes out when we have fundraisers.”

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