Through their respective volunteer fire departments, Joseph Morabito Jr. of Owego and Samantha Smith of Newark Valley spent the past few weeks helping Tioga County recover from flooding.
“We knew we’d be getting a lot of calls,” said Morabito, 18. “We put up sand walls all over town and did water rescue and evacuation.”
He said he worked hard, recalling a 30-hour shift during which he helped people escape from their homes. Now that the flooding has subsided he and the rest of the Owego Fire Department have been concentrating on cleanup efforts, he noted.
Samantha, 17, volunteers for the Newark Valley Fire Department and said she and her fellow volunteers served as engine crew for the Owego department during the worst of the flooding. Some of the calls her department handled in Owego included a car fire and helping residents who smelled gas in their homes.
“We basically took the house calls and the car fire and helped out around the station,” she said. “We were cleaning up and making sure (the other firefighters) didn’t need anything.”
After the Newark Valley firefighters finished up a 12-hour shift in Owego, Smith said they came home to some routine calls and ended up working 17 hours straight.
Both teenagers have been firefighters since they became eligible at age 16. Samantha said she was inspired to join after seeing the Newark Valley Fire Department put on demonstrations for her brother’s Boy Scout troop and witnessing its quick response to a car accident in front of her house.
“You’ve got to love helping others, and you’ve got to be able to deal with people,” she said of being a firefighter.
Samantha recalled her first firefighting experience as “awesome.” It was a wintertime house fire, the smoke from which made it almost impossible to see the dwelling.
“A heater had started (the fire) so there was a big hole in the floor right by us,” she said. “I was crawling and I felt my hand go through this hole in the floor and I thought, ‘I better move so I don’t fall through.’ Every firefighter is scared when they’re inside, but you got to do your job.”
Morabito, who said he approaches firefighting with calm and confidence, joined the Owego department because a few of his friends were interested in doing so.
“You don’t really think about the fear for yourself,” he said about being in dangerous situations.
To be a firefighter, Morabito said, a person has to have a deep desire to help others.
“You have to put other people first and trust the people you’re working with,” he noted, saying he hopes to continue volunteer firefighting for many years.
Both teens plan to attend Broome Community College in the fall. Morabito said he’ll study criminal justice with the goal of becoming a police officer, and Samantha plans to study fire technology and hopes to investigate the causes of fires.
“I want to get into the arson end of it,” she explained. “Just being in the fire department and going to a bunch of house fires, I’ve seen investigators come in to see what causes the fires. And five minutes later they can say it started right there and this is how.”
Samantha said her parents are becoming more comfortable with the idea of her fighting fires. Morabito’s mother, Vicky, said she isn’t surprised that her son is a firefighter, and thinks it’s good experience for him.
“I think it’s great,” she said. “It teaches them a lot of responsibility, balancing this with school and sports.”
Along with their firefighting duties, the two teens also serve as volunteers at their respective parishes. They also have one other thing in common: Last fall, they were both recipients of the diocesan Hands of Christ Award, which recognizes high-school seniors for outstanding service to others.
Morabito taught Sunday school at St. Patrick in Owego for three years, is a member of the youth group and helps out in church where he can.
“I love kids, helping out kids and teaching them,” he said.
He was nominated for the Hands of Christ award by Anita Martin, who described him as a real disciple of Jesus.
“At church he was an altar server, is currently a eucharistic minister and has been a catechist to young children in the religious-education program,” Martin wrote in her nomination.
Smith is active at St. John the Evangelist in Newark Valley, where she was an altar server, extraordinary minister of holy Communion and religious-education instructor.
“It was fun just because you’re passing on your knowledge to the younger kids. And I just like how they look up to you,” she said.