By: Battalion Chief Leigh Hollins, Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue
Fire Department of New York (FDNY) Firefighter Mark Wesseldine’s participation in a “life learning” program at Harlee Middle School in Bradenton, Florida, yielded a message not only for the students but for Wesseldine and all others in attendance as well.
The school sits on the outskirts of the toughest neighborhood in Manatee County in an area known as “Duplex City.” We firefighters and local law enforcement personnel know Duplex City as the busiest “box,”-lots of action.
Wesseldine’s visit was born of an idea conceived by Kim Anderson, a second-year teacher at Harlee. Her husband, Danny, is a local firefighter. When she learned that the school was concentrating on “life learning skills” during the early part of the semester, she suggested that the events of 9-11-01 be among the topics in the curriculum and that, if possible, a firefighter from New York City come to the school to participate in an assembly. The theme would be “How the 9-11-01 attacks changed the lives of FDNY firefighters and how the students could take the lessons learned from that event and turn them into positive life learning skills.”
Danny is a former member of my battalion. Since I am a H.O.T. instructor at FDIC and FDIC West and know some New York City firefighters, I was asked to help. Ultimately, it was agreed that Wesseldine and FDNY Firefighter Chris Macri would participate. Harlee Middle School sponsors would provide for their airfare and lodging.
Both firefighters are members of FDNY’s 18th Battalion in the Bronx; Wesseldine is assigned to Truck 58 and Macri to Truck 56.
Wesseldine delivered an emotional speech, stressing that the words “hate” and “can’t” should not be used and why they should not be part of one’s life. The children of Duplex City got the message. They applauded wildly, waving American flags at the conclusion of Wesseldine’s comments.
The students’ reaction and the strains of “God Bless the USA,” played after the remarks, caused tears to stream down the faces of many in the audience, including Wesseldine and some of the most seasoned local firefighters. All had learned a lesson that day.
Most firefighters don’t realize the impact they have on young people. This is especially true of FDNY firefighters, who many kids look up to in the same way as they do major sports figures.