Catching Fire

Scott Siley, a former infielder for the George Washington baseball team, has decided to forgo college. Instead, he’ll enroll in fire school in the fall.

  • Holding the hardware Siley (second from left) and fellow seniors Gilad Metro, Roger Hanson and Pat Farrell celebrate Washington’s first league baseball title since 1995, a thrilling 3-2 victory over Franklin Towne Charter.

  • Burning bright: Scott Siley (pictured), a recent graduate of George Washington High, has begun steps to become a firefighter. He’s already volunteered at a fire house in Bensalem, where he will report full-time upon completion of fire school. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCOTT SILEY

For the past two base­ball sea­sons at George Wash­ing­ton High School, head coach and ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Ken Geiser al­ways main­tained that you could nev­er have too many Scott Si­leys on your team.

Si­ley, Geiser’s re­cently gradu­ated First Team All-Pub­lic League third base­man, is many things rolled in­to one: jokester, in­tense com­pet­it­or, trus­ted lead­er and re­spec­ted team­mate. And while Si­ley may be known by many in the Wash­ing­ton com­munity as a vo­cal, light-hearted funny­man, “When he steps between the lines, he’s 100 per­cent ser­i­ous and is a great guy to have on your squad when it’s time to go to work,” Geiser said.

That qual­ity should come in handy in Si­ley’s chosen ca­reer choice. In­stead of fol­low­ing most of his peers to col­lege in the fall, Si­ley has de­cided to forgo the tra­di­tion­al route. In Septem­ber, he will be­gin fire school with the ul­ti­mate goal of be­com­ing a fire­fight­er a few months later. 

An ad­mir­able trade, for sure, one that re­quires a spe­cial type of per­son­al­ity, or, as Si­ley quipped, “A spe­cial kind of crazy per­son.”

Those who know Si­ley well are not sur­prised by his choice. He is loved by team­mates and coaches alike, and was an enorm­ous part of Wash­ing­ton hoist­ing the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship trophy this sea­son, the school’s first since 1995. As a ju­ni­or, he bat­ted .500 as a first base­man; when Ish­mael Bracy and his thun­der­ous bat trans­ferred in from South­ern, Geiser asked Si­ley what he thought about mov­ing to third base. Des­pite the fact that he had nev­er played the po­s­i­tion, Si­ley un­selfishly made the switch, put­ting in hours of de­fens­ive work be­hind the scenes at Slug­gers­ville, where he works. His team-first men­tal­ity boded well for Wash­ing­ton base­ball, and un­doubtedly will make him an ex­cep­tion­al fire­fight­er.

“He told me, ‘Coach, whatever you need me to do, I will,’ ” Geiser said. “He didn’t com­plain that he had to move; he grasped it and did it will­ingly. And I just found out last week the hours of de­fens­ive prac­tice he put in (out­side of school). That’s a great team play­er. Someone else might say, ‘I bat­ted .500 at first base, I shouldn’t have to move,’ but Scott’s not like that. He’s a team play­er, and it showed.”

Mike “Big Zoom” Zolk, the former head base­ball coach at Neu­mann-Gor­etti and cur­rent head coach/in­struct­or at Slug­gers­ville (9490 Blue Grass Road), has known Si­ley for years. His daugh­ter and Si­ley have at­ten­ded school to­geth­er since kinder­garten, and Zolk grew up with Si­ley’s fath­er, Scott Sr. The young­er Si­ley asked Zolk for a job at Slug­gers­ville, and he hasn’t re­gret­ted the de­cision.

“He’s a kid who leads without even try­ing,” Zolk said. “At Slug­gers­ville, noth­ing we ask him to do is above or be­low him. He’ll clean the bath­rooms if I asked him to. He made up his mind a long time ago that he wants to per­form a pub­lic ser­vice and help oth­ers. He’s hands down in the top-5 fa­vor­ite kids of mine I’ve ever been around, and I’ve been do­ing this for a lot of years. He’s al­most like a son to me.”

So why fire school in­stead of tra­di­tion­al col­lege? Si­ley said he nev­er really had a spe­cif­ic “Ah-ha!” mo­ment when he knew this was his call­ing, nor was he grand­fathered in­to it by fam­ily mem­bers (his fath­er is an iron­work­er; his moth­er a nurse). For awhile, he thought he might enter the mil­it­ary, even go­ing as far as talk­ing to re­cruit­ers from the Mar­ines. 

He kept his col­legi­ate op­tions open, too, ap­ply­ing and get­ting in­to schools like East Strouds­burg, Penn State Abing­ton, Blooms­burg, West Chester and Kutztown. But in the end, Si­ley knew his call­ing.

“It’s just what I’ve al­ways wanted to do ever since I was little,” he said. 

Si­ley said his for­ay in­to fire­fight­ing es­sen­tially happened by ac­ci­dent. While still kick­ing around the idea of join­ing the armed forces, he went on­line to see if he could take the test for the Phil­adelphia Fire De­part­ment. He filled out a job-in­terest form so he could be no­ti­fied when the next test was avail­able, and “by mis­take” filled out an­oth­er form for a fire­fight­er ju­ni­or ex­plorer pro­gram, which teaches prop­er fire in­struc­tion to can­did­ates ages 14-21. 

Once he learned what ex­actly fire­fight­ers do, he set out to be­come a vo­lun­teer some­where. He didn’t know how, but his mom knew a former vo­lun­teer fire­fight­er who used to work at Uni­on Fire Com­pany Sta­tion 37 on State Road in Ben­s­alem. She made a call, Si­ley filled out an ap­plic­a­tion and the rest, as they say, is his­tory.

He’s been learn­ing from the ground up to start, mainly the pleth­ora of fire­fight­ing equip­ment and how everything works. Si­ley said he was brought in on a Tues­day, and by Sunday he was go­ing on his first call, a car ac­ci­dent on State Road. Though he can’t ac­tu­ally run in­to any burn­ing build­ings or as­sist ac­ci­dent vic­tims un­til he com­pletes fire school, Si­ley said the on-the-job train­ing as a vo­lun­teer fire­fight­er has been in­valu­able.

“It’s a big ad­ren­aline rush,” he said. “It’s all about think­ing about the job you have to do. For now, it’s just learn­ing, get­ting tools for the oth­er fire­fight­ers and things like that. After I fin­ish school, I’ll be go­ing in­to fires or as­sist­ing car crash vic­tims.”

Si­ley, who just turned 18 last week, was asked if he’s fully real­ized the mag­nitude of the life-and-death cir­cum­stances he’ll be fa­cing every day in his chosen field.

“I don’t really think about that too much,” he said. “The one thing I know is that you don’t take short­cuts, be­cause one short­cut can be the dif­fer­ence between life and death for me and oth­ers. If you do things the right way, you should be OK. Stuff hap­pens all the time, so I just try not to think about it. On the base­ball team, I was the guy who got every­one pumped up. On a team, you have to work to­geth­er, and that goes for this or any line of work.”

The old sport­ing cliches that ap­ply to real-world prob­lems can of­ten be tire­some, but in Si­ley’s case, him be­ing such an in­teg­ral part of Wash­ing­ton’s cham­pi­on­ship base­ball team will only help pre­pare him for the road ahead.

In Phil­adelphia, a fire­fight­er is as­signed to a house upon com­ple­tion of fire school; however, in Si­ley’s case, he’s already joined the house in Ben­s­alem, which will be the one he re­ports to when he of­fi­cially be­comes a fire­fight­er. So in es­sence, he’s got a great head start to­ward build­ing ca­marader­ie with his new team­mates.

“This base­ball sea­son taught me if you put your mind to something and you set a goal, you can get there if you’re will­ing to put in the work,” Si­ley said. “That’s what high school base­ball taught me about life go­ing for­ward. Our sea­son wasn’t all uni­corns and rain­bows, and neither is life. I just wanted to fo­cus on be­ing a good team­mate.”

Si­ley’s sup­port sys­tem has been stead­fast. Both of his par­ents have sup­por­ted his ca­reer choice un­equi­voc­ally, even if his mom is likely to be­come a nervous wreck after he’s com­pleted fire school. 

“Some­times it’s a cliche, that play­ing sports teaches you how to be part of a team,” Geiser said. “But in this case, fire­fight­ers are a tight group. When they go out on a call, they count on each oth­er, and Scott is a good team play­er. I think he’ll do a great job, and I was ex­cited when he told me dur­ing the sea­son that he was start­ing his train­ing. I’m ex­cited he has that pas­sion for something, something he’s wanted to do all along. I wish him the best.”

Zolk, Si­ley’s cur­rent boss and one of his ment­ors, agreed with Geiser.

“He’s go­ing to be the first one in the fire,” Zolk said. “His mind has been made up for a long time that he wanted to be in­volved in pro­tect­ing oth­ers. I’m proud of him, and I get chills think­ing about how far he’s come. He’s been my right-hand man at Slug­gers­ville. He’s the type of kid I’d have no qualms about mar­ry­ing my daugh­ter. I love him.”

For Si­ley, this next chapter in his life has been the cap­stone to a truly whirl­wind year, and he wouldn’t trade away any of it.

“Be­fore the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game, one of the guys in the huddle said if we win today, we walk to­geth­er forever,” he said. “And I get to fol­low win­ning a cham­pi­on­ship by be­gin­ning the most fun, re­ward­ing ca­reer that I can think of. I’d en­cour­age any­one to vo­lun­teer for a pub­lic ser­vice like this. I’ve learned a lot already, and I love it. It’s the path I want to take, and it’s the best pos­sible one I can think of.” ••

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