Nurse is passionate about caring for the community — on off hours and weekends she volunteers at Brewerton Fire Department
By Steve Yablonski
Q: Would you tell me a bit about your background to start?
A: I was raised in Redfield, Oswego County, and at that time Redfield had a population of a little more than 300. I went to Sandy Creek Central School with the biggest graduating class ever of around 70 students. The summer before I left for SUNY Oswego, I started volunteering for the Redfield Fire Department; this was the start of my volunteering career in 1988.
Q: What did you do next?
A: I decided to transfer to the big city of Syracuse to become a registered nurse. While in nursing school I took an EMT [emergency medical technician] class and was hooked. I continued to volunteer when I could with local ambulance companies. After graduating nursing school, I started paramedic school. At this time, I was mainly volunteering more for EMS [emergency medical services] than fire. After obtaining my paramedic and getting some experience, I started working as a full-time flight nurse/paramedic and volunteered my time with the sheriff’s emergency helicopter transporting the sick or injured. In 1996 I met my soon-to-be husband while working at the Brewerton Volunteer Fire Department where he also volunteered as a fireman. I helped the fire department when I could as the wife of a volunteer, but helping on the scene of an accident on the lake sparked my interest in the fire side again. I applied to be a volunteer firefighter in 2011, took firefighter 1 and the rest is history.
Q: Where do you volunteer now? At more than one place?
A: Brewerton Volunteer Fire Department.
Q: Why do you volunteer?
A: Helping the community and utilizing my skills to help those in need. Setting a good example for my daughter and leaving a legacy.
Q: How long have you been a volunteer? How many hours a week do you volunteer?
A: I have been a volunteer on and off for 33 years. Volunteer hours vary depending on the need. I currently hold the vice president position in the department.
Q: How difficult was it for you, and volunteers in general, during the height of the pandemic?
A: The anxiety of the unknown in the beginning was the most difficult. However, with certain protocols and constant communication and education we were successful in assisting our community.
Q: Are there still certain safety protocols you have to adhere to?
A: Our protocols have lifted tremendously with most of us being vaccinated. We still need to be vigilant and recognize on calls when PPE is needed.
Q: What are the rewards of volunteering?
A: Same answer as what I would tell someone considering to be a volunteer.
Q: What would you tell someone who’s considering being a volunteer?
A: The experience and friendships you develop are for a lifetime while knowing you did something to help another person in their time of need. It can sometimes break your heart, but can also fill your heart with pride. With seven life-saving awards from Onondaga County, the ability to have the title of first female firefighter lieutenant for the Brewerton Fire Department, and having a legacy of helping those in need made it worth the time I commit to the community.
Q: Do you still work?
A: I work full time at Oswego Hospital. I oversee occupational health, employee health, the cardiac rehabilitation program at Lakeside Heart and I oversee the diabetic education and the school-based programs.
Q: As a volunteer, what do you share with the people you volunteer for?
A: I have shared my family.
Q: If you weren’t volunteering, what would you do with your time?
A: I would go fishing.
Photo: Nurse Rita Wicks is busy overseeing several health programs at Oswego Health. She also volunteers for the Brewerton Fire Department as its first female firefighter lieutenant.