Volunteer Firefighting Forges Successful Careers

Officer Cody Braddock

His first day on the street with the Trenton Police Department, Officer Cody Braddock already had a keen ability to communicate with all sorts of people in all sorts of stressful situations.

When Princeton Fire Marshal Joe Novak tells business owners they must correct an electrical issue, he does not pull out the code book, but a bevy of detailed stories about how quickly an electrical fire can move through a building.

Novak and Braddock learned these skills, and many more, as volunteer firefighters in Hopewell. Both say the experience and abilities gained as volunteers honed their interest in their careers and serve them daily on the job.

“You learn how everybody is different, and how to read situations better and be patient, and be disciplined in your reactions,” said Braddock, when asked about volunteer fire service. Braddock, at 24 years old, has already served nearly a decade as a volunteer with Hopewell Fire Department & Emergency Medical Unit. On the street as a police officer. “Those skills are key,” he emphasized.

Princeton Fire Marshal Joe Novak

Novak, at 40, also started his volunteer service as a teenager and is now Chief of Hopewell Fire & EMU. He would not have been able to build his career without having been a volunteer firefighter first, he said.

Novak’s previous job, supervisor of testing and inspection at Princeton University, required not just fire inspection experience, but supervisory experience. He had never been paid to supervise anyone, but supervises many as head of his volunteer fire department. “Even with 20 years’ experience as a fire inspector, the fact that I’m a volunteer firefighter and Chief always gets brought up first,” he said.

Similar stories can be found around Hopewell Valley’s other volunteer fire departments and EMT squads: Pennington First Aid Squad, Pennington Fire Company, and Union Fire Company & Rescue Squad.

Michael Chipowsky, chairman of the Hopewell Township Board of Fire Commissioners,  shared that some volunteer EMTs are now also career EMTs or paramedics, or work in another medical profession. “Teen volunteers have found the experience not only intrinsically rewarding, but a good way to try out a prospective career path – not to mention this level of community service looks great on a college application!” said Chipowsky.

Braddock signed up as a high school student because he wanted to help people, and he wanted to do something productive. “It’s such a good environment, and I’ve made many friends at the firehouse who I consider more or less my family,” he said. “Nothing feels like helping people does,” he said. “You bring a smile to people’s faces when you do a good thing in the community. I was awarded ‘firefighter of the year’ two times, and it pushed me to make me want to do better.”

Being a volunteer firefighter requires time, dedication, and training – and that is part of what makes firefighters attractive to employers. “Being in a fire department or Emergency Medical Service helps a person mature and become responsible,” said Novak’s supervisor, Princeton’s Director of the Department of Emergency & Safety Services, Robert Gregory. “Early on in training, it is made clear that you will be responsible for a person’s life and you had better know what you are doing and how to act. If you’re good and take it seriously, you truly grow as a professional, and I look for that in candidates.”

Both firefighter and EMT training are free to the volunteers at all of Hopewell Township’s volunteer first responder units. Novak’s advice: “Take as much training as you can.”

Braddock said he has gotten to know people from all different backgrounds and all walks of life as a fire volunteer, and all of them learn from each other. Gregory points out from a practical job-hunting perspective, it’s also a whole lot of networking in one place.

All of Hopewell Township’s volunteer fire and emergency medical units need volunteers, Chipowsky said. For more information about volunteering, to request a call from a current volunteer, or to sign up, please visit www.ProtectHopewellValley.com, or call Matt Martin at 609-537-0287.

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