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Climbing the ladder to success

Between wiping his runny nose on a crusty sleeve and squatting behind a living room chair to dirty his diaper, a little boy announces his future plans.
/ Source: PhillyBurbs.com

Between wiping his runny nose on a crusty sleeve and squatting behind a living room chair to dirty his diaper, a little boy announces his future plans."I'm gonna be a fireman!" he declares to a roomful of grinning faces while wearing a firefighter's helmet and holding his security blanket like a fire hose. "Whoooshhhh! Water put the fire out! Water put the fire out!"Some 25 years later, that little boy is a man. He's swamped by spreadsheets and deadlines in his 9-to-5 job. He loosens the knot on a necktie that's strangling him almost as much as the job itself. He leans back in his chair and wistfully gazes out the office window. As he watches clouds and time pass all too quickly, he begins to wonder who kidnapped his little boy dreams.That grown up little boy's name is not Bill Shick.Because he never let his dream die.?Shick is a firefighter for the Charlotte Fire Department in North Carolina. At the age of 20, he is its youngest, which says something about the man. He's been a fireman since making the cut in January along with 54 others from a deep, talented pool of 2,100 hopefuls.He first applied in January 2007, six months before graduating from Palisades, and hoped to join the department that hired his older friend and fellow Ottsville native, Rich Maschi, three years before. But Shick was not selected.Undeterred, he reapplied in December 2007. He hoped, waited and continued his work at St. Luke's Emergency and Transport Services in Quakertown. When the call finally came in January of this year, this little boy's dreams had come true."Getting that call was unbelievable," Shick said by telephone from Charlotte. "All my life - literally all my life - I wanted to be a firefighter. Now I am. It's amazing."From January through June, Shick was trained mentally, emotionally and physically by the Charlotte Fire Department. He went on active duty on July 17.But that Shick made it comes as no great surprise. Not to his mother, Diane, or his father, Bill Sr., a 20-year volunteer of the Ottsville Volunteer Fire Co. And certainly not to Nancy Hallowell, his former preschool teacher at Deep Run Presbyterian Nursery School in Bedminster Township."I will never forget the first time I met Billy at the school," said Hallowell, now the school's director. "He was 4. He walked right up to me and said, 'I'm Billy Shick and I'm going to be a firefighter!' And I said, 'Oh, you are? Well, that's terrific. Good luck.'"And now he's a firefighter. You always hear about kids telling everyone what they're going to be when they grow up. This one's going to be a doctor, that's one's going to be a policeman. It's great for them to say that, but it's just kids talking."As it turns out, Billy wasn't just talking. He knew back then what he was going to be."Shick became a firefighter in January. But that notification was a mere formality because he'd been a firefighter all his life. A few weeks after his birth, his mother and father brought him to the Ottsville fire house to show him off. His father climbed up into one of the big red trucks and held the newborn in his arms.And there are the childhood photos. There's young Bill in a fireman's helmet. There's young Bill wearing his father's fireman's coat that draped like a blanket around his tiny shoulders.When Bill was 14, he began building his firefighting resume. He and his sister, Stephanie, joined the fire company's Explorers group, doing odd jobs around the fire company, washing the trucks, pulling the hoses."We'd ride our bikes about a mile to the station," Shick said. "It was just in my blood."At 16, he was eligible to accompany the firefighters on fire calls, but not allowed to enter a burning building."To be that young and on a fire truck on the way to a fire was amazing," Shick said. "To other kids my age, it would have been a neat story to tell when you got back to school. For me, it was what I wanted to do. It was more than just a neat story to tell."When Shick turned 18, a time when many of his fellow high school graduates were preparing to attend college, he was adding another line to his resume. He spent eight hours each Sunday for six months at a firefighting training course at the Bucks County Safety Training Center in Doylestown, learning the A-to-Z's of firefighting.What followed were the applications to Charlotte. And the rejection. And the acceptance. Kid dreams. Sometimes they ripen on the vine. Other times they wither and die.But they don't have to. Not if you have a burning desire like Bill Shick to make them come true.Phil Gianficaro is a columnist for The Intelligencer. He can be reached at 215-345-3078 or pgianficaro@phillyBurbs.com.