Jeff Burkhart, 36, is the Chief of the Oriskany Fire Department, and a road patrol deputy with the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office. He originally joined the fire service back in 1992 following a devastating fire at the historic Trinkaus Manor Restaurant, which reduced the entire building to rubble. Jeff grew up with that restaurant and it was where he went every morning before school with his mother, who worked there during the day.
Following the fire, Jeff was set on the mission to prevent these types of incidents from happening again. Being that the fire was suspicious, it also sparked his interest in fire investigation, which he chose to study along with forensic sciences to help prove criminal cases. He successfully completed many hours of training before the age of 18 and was one of the youngest line officers in the history of the fire company. He is now a Level 2 Fire Investigator and an advanced EMT.
Jeff says he joined the department for one reason but it has morphed into so many more reasons why he stayed:
“There are so many other parts of being a firefighter besides the joy of helping others. It opens up the door for others to help you as well. The extended firefighting family is filled with people who drop everything to help, and that is especially true for fellow brother and sister firefighters. Regardless if it’s a broken water pipe in the house, an issue with childcare because of work, or problems with your car, there always seems to be someone who is there to help. I joined for a totally separate reason than why I stay.”
Although Jeff initially joined to get involved in fire investigations, he since has taken an active role in fire prevention and special services. He has served as chairman of several fire prevention committees over the years for organizations such as Oriskany Fire Department, Oneida County Firemen’s Association, Central New York Firemen’s Association and FASNY. He has received numerous awards and accolades for work done in the field of fire prevention and life safety from New York State Fire Chiefs, among other organizations. He has been the recipient of a wide range of other awards including the Central New York Firemen’s Firefighter of the Year and the FASNY Fire Safety Educator of the Year.
In addition, he is a regional fire instructor specializing in water rescue training. Jeff also serves on the Emergency Response Team (SWAT), bike and ATV patrol, dive team and has other duties such as crime scene investigation, fire investigation, crash reconstruction and supervisory roles. He instructs numerous topics at several police academies including field sobriety, breath analysis, crash investigation and bike patrol school.
Jessie Roland-Bystrak, 20, is a student at Hilbert College majoring in Forensic Science who has been a volunteer firefighter for over two years. As one of the youngest members in the East Aurora Fire Department, Jessie is now a Lieutenant of her Engine and President of her Company. Her husband, Kristopher Bystrak, recently returned from Afghanistan and signed up to be a volunteer firefighter during last month’s RecruitNY weekend (as one of 10 new recruits for the East Aurora Fire Department). Jessie’s father is a volunteer as well. Growing up witnessing his dedication to the community as a volunteer firefighter and taking charge of organizing town events (car shows, carnivals, running and bike races, parades, etc.), Jessie knew she too wanted to be a part of something big and impactful in her community.
At age 17 she applied and was accepted to Phoenix Firecamp for women in Utica, NY. After participating in that camp, she knew firefighting was for her. On her 18th birthday, she joined the East Aurora Fire Department. That same year, she attended the Firefighter 1 Bootcamp in Erie County.
Soon after joining, she became involved in helping out with fire prevention and community events with members of her fire department. She and a few other firefighters from her department regularly visit and talk to preschool children about fire safety. They teach them basic fire prevention, the students watch Jessie put on her gear, and they show the children the fire truck. Jessie visits the local high school, as well, and talks to students at career night, answering questions about becoming a firefighter.
One of Jessie’s main goals as a volunteer firefighter is to inspire women of all ages to join the fire service:
“I really enjoy working with children of all ages and teens and I love being their role model. That is what made me decide that I am a firefighter – to show young girls that nothing can stop them from being a firefighter. Growing up and learning firsthand that being apart of the community is key, and then finding my place as a role model for young girls have been the basis for why I am a firefighter.”
Aside from volunteering, Jessie takes part in multiple extracurricular activities. She is a security guard, in line to become a police officer, intern at the Erie County Sherriff’s office, a mentor for the Western New York United Against Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Inc., a college soccer player, President of the Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Club, and a leadership scholar. Jessie is also the leader of the female firefighter Dirty Girl Run team, an all women mud run and obstacle course. Jessie is currently coordinating a team of women firefighters to compete in the 5k mud run and will be donating all money raised to breast cancer research.