Community service is at the core of the Franciscan values integral to the St. Bonaventure University tradition.
Each year, many Bonnies do their part to continue this tradition. Bonnies softball junior Madison Stewart is not only focused on helping others, she's willing to enter burning buildings to save those in need.
Stewart is on her way to joining the Orchard Park Fire Company's Central Fire Station with the goal of becoming a volunteer firefighter and EMS worker.
Serving as a first responder runs in the family for the Bonnies catcher.
"My grandfather was a Philadelphia firefighter his entire life; he was a lieutenant there," Stewart said. "My brother joined over a year ago and he loved it. I've watched their drills and their training and I wanted to follow in their footsteps."
It's especially important now when the Orchard Park community, like many others across the country, has a dire need for volunteers.
"They are in desperate need of volunteers' that's another reason why I joined," she said, adding that her brother, Shane, has opened a brewery and is sending a portion of the proceeds to first responders. "Volunteers have to be a different kind of person. It's pretty much a full-time job. They're dedicating as much time to this as their regular jobs. I'm so excited to be a part of it and be in active duty, giving back to my community."
She got the ball rolling back in February when she began the application process, but that was stalled by COVID-19 shutdowns. Her application was finally processed in late June, allowing her to take the written firefighter test and then earn acceptance from the department board. Now she is working on EMT courses in addition to hands-on firefighting training that she must pass, along with a written exam, to work on-call at an active fire.
Currently, she is cleared to set up ladders for other firefighters to enter buildings through upper floors, and will work the ladder truck herself after passing a certification test.
"I have to go through drills and training, but I can start going on calls when I come back home from Bonaventure (after the fall semester)," she said. "I can do fire hydrant hose and ladder work (now), but I can't go in the fire until I pass the courses."
She got a taste of what a real-life fire situation is like recently when watching a live burn as part of her training.
"The toughest thing I saw is the lack of visibility," she said. "Your life is at stake and you're trying to save other people and you might not be able to see. I don't think anyone has experienced anything like that until they go through fire training. The intensity of the training is crazy; we were in a burning building for three hours for drills."
The situations may be totally different, but she believes some of the communication skills she has learned as a catcher may help her when it comes to fighting a blaze and helping others out safely.
"Being a catcher, I think that will help me because I'm not afraid to communicate with others," she added. "When you're in a burning building, communication is tremendously important; you need to be able to communicate with people ahead of and behind you quickly."
While her focus will be on academics and softball when she starts the fall semester next week, when she returns home and begins her volunteer work that will become her priority.
"My brother and my chief have said that when I'm at school, softball comes first, but when I'm home this has to come first," said Stewart, who is a member of the Atlantic 10 Commissioner's Honor Roll. "When I'm able to go to calls I need to be dedicated and drop everything to go to calls. Our response time at Central is very good and that is critical. You have to be dedicated."
An education major, Stewart hopes to become a teacher following graduation and to use her experience as a volunteer firefighter as a source of inspiration to the next generation, particularly young girls. By volunteering with the Orchard Park Fire Company, she joins just one other female volunteer within the department.
"I think it would be really cool to be a teacher and a firefighter," she said, "and make girls want to grow up and be like, 'hey I can do that.'"
- By Scott Eddy, Assistant Athletic Director for Athletics Communications
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