During February’s blizzard, when many people were hunkering down with hot chocolate and movies before shoveling, Nick Witczak ’14 was manning emergency operations for his hometown in New Jersey. He also lent a hand to West Haven’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM), all while tending to his full-time fire administration studies at UNH.
Only 21, Witczak was named deputy coordinator of the Mendham Township Office of Emergency Management in New Jersey in January 2013. He is the youngest person ever to be appointed to the position. He managed his duties during the blizzard while on campus at UNH, keeping in constant contact with the coordinator and alerting the media and public about the status of the storm by email, text, tweets and Facebook posts.
It was his on-the-scene work in his local emergency operations center in Mendham during Hurricane Sandy, however, that led to him being named deputy coordinator. Witczak helped with planning, logistics and public information. By mid-week, he furthered his experience through an operations role with the fire department. He was then deployed with the fire company at the request of the state to the Seaside Heights area on the Jersey Shore.
“I had just vacationed up the road from there during the summer and have many friends who have shore houses on the barrier island,” he said. “Seeing the amount of devastation was incomprehensible. My fellow firefighters from Toms River and Seaside Heights truly showed what it meant to be steadfast during adversity.”
Witczak has wanted to be a firefighter since he was 12. He comes from a family of first responders; his father is a police officer, and his cousin and neighbors are firefighters.
At 16, he became a junior firefighter with his hometown engine company. He didn’t yet have his driver’s license, so when calls came in the middle of the night, his mom or dad would drive him to the firehouse. “I thank them all the time for that,” Witczak said. “Without them I don’t think I would be here at UNH or studying fire science.”
Witczak loves his courses at UNH and the whirl of a busy schedule. In addition to his deputy coordinator post, he holds two part-time jobs as dispatcher and an EMT and maintains a 3.0 GPA. Still, he said, he manages to have plenty of time for his friends.
He will graduate in 2014 but he wants to continue on toward a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in emergency management and preparedness. “I like helping people,” he said. “Having a family background in public safety and service helped to make it all click together.”