August 1, 2003

'Long road' to dream job nears reality

Call-ups, budget cuts delayed firefighter-to-be

Bronislaus B. Kush


WORCESTER- Nathan M. Schirner has finally dodged the proverbial bullet.

He hopes.

During the past two years, the city man has done just about everything he could to become a Worcester firefighter - attending two training academies and even landing a clerical position with the Fire Department in anticipation of a slot opening up.

But fate continually intervened.

In late 2001, for example, he had to leave the Worcester Fire Academy when his National Guard unit was called to active duty after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Fire officials, seeing promise in the young man, however, promised him another chance.

Upon his return from military service, he was enrolled in the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Stow and was set to join the firefighter ranks.

But, after graduating in May, Mr. Schirner was laid off, a victim of the city's budget woes.

This Sunday, though, his dream may finally come true.

The city came up with some money and Mr. Schirner will report to Fire Headquarters on Grove Street that night to become the latest member of Ladder Company 2.

"It's been a long road but I finally have the chance," said the 28-year-old Mr. Schirner.

For a while, even Mr. Schirner's latest good news almost turned sour.

His guard unit was once again called up and set to be deployed to Cuba to guard suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yesterday, Mr. Schirner got a break, receiving a call from a National Guard general waiving his latest military assignment.

"We were really relieved," said Mr. Schirner's wife, Tina.

Mr. Schirner became interested in firefighting when he ran into a Worcester firefighter at a bachelor party.

His wife's father, Thomas O'Rourke, is a Worcester firefighter, and her uncle, James, is retired from the department.

Mr. Schirner, who served in the Marine Corps from 1993 to 1999, was chosen to attend the Worcester Fire Department academy, but was forced to drop out about a third of the way through training when Uncle Sam called.

He attended the graduation of his 17 classmates on Dec. 29, 2001, then was dispatched to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey to help with security details.

When he returned, the Fire Department gave him a data clerk's job at the management information office and he was enrolled at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Stow.

Municipal budget cuts, however, stymied his efforts.

After graduating in May, Mr. Schirner was laid off, never getting the chance to ride a firetruck.

Mr. Schirner said he knew he had a good shot of getting back on the department once Worcester's financial picture began to clear up again.

But about the time of his layoff, word began to spread among members of his Guard unit that the group would be going to Cuba.

The suspected call-up turned out to be a reality.

"My heart just sunk," he said.

Mr. Schirner said he was fortunate to get a waiver.

"Now I get the chance to be a firefighter," he said.

Nathan M. Schirner, whose military obligations have so far thwarted his plan to be a firefighter, may finally have the break he has wanted.