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.” ••