By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park –Matt Jerome, an 18 year old senior at Shenendehowa, has been involved with local fire departments since he was born. “It was in my blood so I had to join,” he said.
Jerome officially joined the Vischer Ferry Fire Department last year, though he said he was raised in fire departments since his dad has been involved in both the Vischer Ferry and West Crescent Departments for decades. Jerome’s mother worked as a certified first responder for a time, too. “My chief held me a couple days after I was born,” he said.
Jerome’s father, who joined a fire department at age 16, told his son that he could sign up for the fire department only after he became an Eagle Scout. Jerome earned the title last December but just recently had his court of honor in April. “As soon as I got eagle, I was signing those papers,” Jerome said. His eagle project involved fixing up and marking a burial site behind Amity Reformed Church in Vischer Ferry.
While it might be difficult to fathom how Jerome has time for extracurriculars when school, scouts and the fire department are taken into account, his resume surely isn’t lacking. Jerome has been a member of Shenendehowa’s winter bowling team, crew team and environmental club.
Jerome has also been involved in Shenendehowa’s band since fifth grade, playing the trombone. “ In seventh grade, I began playing in the school jazz band as well, and I’m still playing jazz to this day.” Last year, Jerome began playing the bass trombone. “I’m still playing in both Symphonic and Concert Jazz Band right now,” Jerome said.
Jerome has also worked at Camp Wakpominee, a boy scout camp in the Adirondacks, as a camp counselor since 2013. Before he became a counselor, Jerome attended the camp as a scout himself since he was about 10 years old. He’s worked in the rifle range and will be the archery director this summer. Each summer the camp is open for six or seven weeks. “It doesn’t pay the bills, but I love it,” he said.
He was also part of the Jonesville Fire Department’s “Explorer” club which serves as an introduction to the department for kids too young to join.
At just 18 years old, Jerome’s close ties to the fire department have exposed him to some of the most painful images and stories one can imagine. “All we can do is talk to our brothers at the firehouse,” he said. “Not many people understand what we’ve seen,” he added.
Just a couple weeks ago, he was the third one on the scene of an accident which involved one of his own classmates. Though his classmate was okay, it’s a nerve wracking experience nonetheless.
When asked what he’s most proud of, Jerome paused and said, “That’s a hard one.”
Then he began telling a story about a moment in his life that changed everything. He said, “On May 23, 2007, I was hit by a Dodge Ram as I was crossing the road to my friend’s house after school.” Jerome, eight years old at the time, sustained a traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, a fractured cranium, clavicle and pelvis — injuries that forced him to relearn everyday tasks like walking, talking, eating and even manners. “I was eight years old and an infant at the same time. That’s definitely one of my biggest comebacks,” he said.
Unless Jerome mentioned his story, you’d have no idea what he’s had to overcome. “My handwriting is still crap, but I don’t give two hoots about it,” he said. He added that he sometimes has trouble concentrating, still.
The other big challenge in his life, Jerome said, has been keeping his “nose to the grindstone and finishing that eagle.” He added, “I could’ve finished at 16, but then I discovered women.”
In the fall, Jerome plans to attend Paul Smith’s College to study Forest Operations. “I love being out in the woods,” he said. “I’ve been a hunter since I was 12, though I haven’t shot anything yet.”
Just the night prior to our interview, Jerome was awarded four scholarships. The award which might have meant the most to him was in honor of Gregory J. Krueger, the man who was first one to respond to the scene of Jerome’s accident.
In 10 years, Jerome said he will be “volunteering at a local fire department, no matter what.”
“What drives me every day is helping people. If I see someone on the side of the road, I’m going to help them. Maybe I’ll be a park ranger or maybe a professional firefighter,” he added.
Q: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
A: It depends on what kind of kick I’m on. Everything from Beach Boys to heavy metal. One thing I don’t like is rap. The majority of the music I listen to is 80s rock and older country.
Q: What are some of your favorite movies?
A: Dukes of Hazzard, Super Troopers, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
Q: What would you do if you had a whole day to yourself?
A: Go to my family camp on Trout Lake. That’s my happy place. I like to spend as much time there as I can. I miss it. I went up last week and the water looked like glass.
Q: Who or what do you think has had the greatest influence on you?
A: I’ve got to give it up to my parents for raising such a legend of a son.
Q: If you could go anywhere, where would you like to go?
A: I’ve only been on the east coast of the United States. I’d like to see the geysers at Yellowstone. Spend some time out west.
Q: If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
A: I’d like to meet my dad’s grandfather and his grandma. I would have loved to have met my great great grandparents on both sides.
Q: Do you have a favorite teacher? If so, who?
A: Mrs. [Amanda] Sofko, my third grade teacher. She and Mrs. [Tracey] Hatlee, the teacher’s aide, both came to see me in the hospital [after the accident] to see how I was doing. They wanted to see me excel.