ALBANY, N.Y. –
There’s an Army recruiter in Middletown, New York, who’s not just putting people in the Army, he’s also putting out fires.
“I’m a volunteer firefighter, and I’m having a blast doing what I do,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Poczobut, who is currently serving in the Albany Recruiting Battalion.
The Poultney, Vermont, native is a proud member of the South Blooming Grove, New York, Fire Department, and he’s been a volunteer firefighter since college.
“I started training to be a firefighter when I was getting my associate’s degree, and it’s something that adds to my life in so many ways,” Poczobut said. “I love what I’m doing.”
Poczobut admits he’s one of those guys who has a really difficult time just sitting around. When he was first assigned to the Bear Mountain Recruiting Company a little over three years ago, he literally heard his passion calling him.
“I’d be home laying around the house after a long day of recruiting and hear the fire house sirens going off,” he said. “After a few times of that I was like, ‘why am I just sitting around here when I can be out there helping? I’m going to the station and introducing myself!’”
Not long after he stopped by the fire station that first time, Poczobut was enrolled into 130 hours of firefighting instruction at the Orange County Firefighter’s Academy. This guy was different from his classmates though, because after more than 15 years of Army training and two deployments to Afghanistan, Poczobut stood out like red on a fire engine.
“They made me the class leader, and I was responsible for 30 students,” he said. “It wasn’t a whole lot different from what I was used to in the Army, because we had three squads in our firefighting class, and I knew exactly what to do. I knew information needed to flow from the top down,” Poczobut said, adding, “plus, I knew how to keep everyone in line.”
On graduation day last December, he was honored for his leadership. The Orange County, New York, Sheriff’s Office, the county clerk and even the county district attorney were all present to honor him with special accolades and certificates.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “I was truly humbled for being recognized in my community.”
That sense of community is something Poczobut says is a huge reason why he loves not only serving his country, but serving the citizens in his area.
“Whether you’re a firefighter or a Soldier, you often see people in horrible situations,” he said. “Knowing you can help them out and that they’re grateful you’re there for them, just makes me feel really good.”
Battling fires is not for the faint of heart, though, and Poczobut is candid about what it’s really like.
“There are no lunch breaks, no smoke breaks, and you go until the fire is out,” he said. “Just like deployments and being in combat, you never know when or what you’re going to get called to respond to, or if you’ll be woken up out of a dead sleep to do battle,” he said. “It’s tough and very physically demanding.”
His drive and determination to make a difference is something Poczobut says is inherent in him, but he’s passionate about making a difference in whatever role he’s in and wants to see others find their calling as well.
“My presence in the community as a firefighter is something I’m very proud of, but I like helping others find their passion as well,” he said. “As an Army recruiter, I can share my experiences with young people in the area and possibly help them find a solid career path serving their country. You never know when someone may look at what you’re doing and say, ‘hey! I want to do that, too!’”
Poczobut says he loves giving back to his community and that he and his fellow firefighters do whatever they can to enhance that sense of community cohesion.
“On holidays we dress up the firetrucks for parades and hand out candy to the kids,” he said. “We build community partnerships, and that’s really important because people want to know we’re there for them. Plus they give us a fire department license plate, and I get to have a blue, flashing light bar on my truck,” he said, laughing.
Those little perks are all Poczobut gets though, as neither he nor his fellow firefighters receive any compensation for what they do. Poczobut says he also never takes a single day off from the Army to serve his community and fight fires.
“I may have put in a very long day recruiting for the force, go to bed and then be awoken at 2 a.m. to respond to a fire call,” he said, “but I don’t mind. It’s just what I do, and I absolutely love it!”