Princeton Fire Marshal and Trenton Police Officer say volunteering with a Hopewell Township fire department opened doors and taught them skills they use daily.

His first day on the street with the Trenton Police Department, Officer Cody Braddock already had a keen ability to communicate with all sorts of people in all sorts of stressful situations.

When Princeton Fire Marshal Joe Novak tells business owners they must correct an electrical issue, he doesn’t pull out the code book, but a bevy of detailed stories about how quickly an electrical fire can move through a building.

Novak and Braddock learned these skills and many more as volunteer firefighters in Hopewell Township. Both say the experience and abilities gained as volunteers honed their interest in their careers and serve them daily on the job.

In the volunteer fire service, “You learn how everybody is different, and how to read situations better and be patient, and be disciplined in your reactions,” said Braddock, who at 24 has already served nearly a decade as a volunteer with Hopewell Fire Department and Emergency Medical Unit. On the street as a police officer, he says, those skills are key.

Novak, 40, also started his volunteer service as a teenager and is now chief of Hopewell Fire and EMU. He wouldn’t have been able to build his career without without having been a volunteer firefighter first, he said.

Novak’s previous job as supervisor of testing and inspection at Princeton University required not just fire inspection experience, but also supervisory experience. He had never been paid to supervise anyone, but supervises many as head of his volunteer fire department.

Similar stories can be found around Hopewell Valley’s other volunteer fire departments and EMT squads: Pennington First Aid Squad, Pennington Fire Company, and Union Fire Company and Rescue Squad, said Michael Chipowsky, chairman of the Hopewell Township Board of Fire Commissioners. Some volunteer EMTs are now also career EMTs or paramedics, or work in another medical profession, he said. “Teen volunteers have found the experience not only intrinsically rewarding, but a good way to try out a prospective career path – not to mention this level of community service looks great on a college application.”

Braddock signed up as a high school student because he wanted to help people, and he wanted to do something productive. “It’s such a good environment, and I’ve made many friends at the firehouse who I consider more or less my family,” he said.

Both firefighter and EMT training are free to the volunteers at all of Hopewell Township’s volunteer first responder units. Novak’s advice: “Take as much training as you can.”

All of Hopewell Township’s volunteer fire and emergency medical units need volunteers, Chipowsky said. For more information, to request a call from a current volunteer, or to sign up, visit protecthopewellvalley.com, or call Matt Martin at (609) 537-0287.