Yates County women snow competition

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
The all-female firefighter team from Yates County that competed in the Winter Games in Cortland County last weekend are (from left) Denise Slocum, Heidi Berdick, and Melanie Falzone of Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department; Tabitha Haesche and Debra Westfall of Himrod Fire Department; and Betty Hubbard of Medic 55.

A group of Yates County women were the first to form an all-female team to compete in the 10th Annual Firefighter Winter Games held last weekend in Cortland County. They came away from the games exhausted and sore, but motivated to be better prepared and conditioned for next year’s competition.

Denise Slocum, captain of the Branchport Keuka Park Fire Department team, said she got the idea for an all-female team after the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department competed in last year’s Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) Winter games.

Slocum’s team consists of three women from the Branchport Keuka Park Fire Dept. — Denise, Heidi Berdick, and Melanie Falzone; two from the Himrod Fire Dept. — Tabitha Haesche and Debra Westfall; and Medic 55’s Betty Hubbard. The women have worked together on different training and fire calls. Their team goal at the winter games is to have fun, use their skills to do the best they can do and to further bond as a team.

While the team of women didn’t win any of the contests against the all-men teams, they did beat the only other female team (from Walton) in a tug-of-war and in the Sled Pull event. “We dusted ‘em!” declared Denise Monday afternoon.

The Branchport-Keuka Park Department also sent a men’s team consisting of First Assistant Chief Steve Schmidt, Second Lieutenant Albert LaPlant, Denise’s husband, George Slocum, foreman, her son, Corey, and Brad Davis.

The Yates County women even performed better in the Sled Pull than 15 of the all-male teams. Their results in the hose race weren’t as impressive, but Slocum says they’ll be better prepared for next year’s competition.

The team plans to participate in the Winter Games again in 2016, and Denise says they are already talking about things they can do through the year to be better prepared.

Denise began her fire career at age 13 as a junior firefighter in the Dresden Fire Department. When she turned 18 she became a senior member. Growing up, Slocum dreamed of becoming the first female chief of Yates County. After taking some time off to raise her children, she decided it was time to rejoin a fire department. She then joined the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Department.

Denise comes from a family of firefighters. Her step-father is the chief of the Dresden Fire Department, and her mother is a member of the same department. Her sister and twin brother are both members of departments in Yates County.

When not volunteering as a first responder, Denise works for the Veterans Crisis Hotline, a part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs where she conducts worldwide rescues for Veterans and others in crisis.

More than 300 firefighters from across New York State, dressed in full turnout gear, participated in a host of events throughout the weekend which was hosted by the Cortland County Firemen’s Association.

The events included perennial favorites: Tubing, Sled Pull, Tug-O-War, Hose Race and Broomball. The 2015 Games included the largest field of competitors to date, and the competition is intense, according to Carolyn Stone, who provided information about the events.

The games’ fierce Fire Departments competition for superiority allows firefighters to hone important training skills. For example, the Hose Relay Event reinforces firefighters’ training on how important speedy, efficient and close teamwork is when fighting a fire.

About FASNY

Founded in 1872, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY) represents the interests of the more than 88,000 volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel in New York State. For more information, visit www.fasny.com.