Story by Sara Paul
Warwick Fire Department (WFD) member Deb Schweikart lives, breathes, works, and loves her volunteer duties she has humbly undertaken for 28 years.
The no-nonsense Warwick resident downplays some pretty cool facts, including her place as the first female FD member in Warwick. She doesn’t have much to say on this, only that she is proud to be a devoted member of an honorable organization.
“Whether it’s a child stuck in crib, a car accident, or a fire, you are making the situation better for someone in a crisis,” said Deb, who is currently on the Executive Board as WFD Secretary, Parade Secretary, and will serve as Carnival Secretary next year. As the Secretary to for Department’s 150th Anniversary Committee, Deb has worked tirelessly on this year’s long line up of events, which will culminate in a parade in the Village of Warwick on Sat., Sept. 28. Deb was also instrumental in securing the Budweiser Clydesdales, which will highlight the festivities.
“With the anniversary this year, there is more emphasis on events, but this work is constant. We are always doing things. Certainly the membership supports it, but the committees are responsible for this work,” notes Deb, who was WFD Captain in 2000-2001; former secretary for the House for more than a decade; and Fire District secretary for 20 years.
Though injured in a motor vehicle accident on the job in 2009, tearing her ACL, Deb still races to fires to assist as official WFD photographer.
She is also co-administrator of the WFD’s Facebook page, constantly updating weather, traffic, and incident reports, and was a key player in the efforts to obtain the 9/11 Survivor Tree from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which is planted at the September 11 Memorial at Veterans Memorial Park.
Life Before the WFD
Deborah Lee Cockerill was born in 1963 in Bronxville, NY. Her family moved to Scarsdale, residing there for 17 years, before moving to Glenrock, NJ. Deb graduated from Glenrock High School in 1981 and attended Kent State University, where she studied Art History and Fine Art. She later moved to Fairlawn, NJ and worked for Pearl Paint in Paramus, NJ for a year, and then for an HVAC company, performing mechanical drafting and secretarial tasks.
It was when Deb moved to Tuxedo, NY in 1986, that she joined the Sterling Forest Fire Co. No. 2 of the Tuxedo Joint Fire Department. She moved to Warwick in 1989 and worked as a manufacturer’s representative for under- and above-ground petroleum products. She has been an Orange County 9-1-1 dispatcher for the past 19 years.
In 1991, Deb joined Engine 3, becoming its first female member, as well as the first female member in the Warwick FD. It was at the South St. Ext. firehouse where a fire was lit in Deb’s heart, and in 1997, she married fellow firefighter Daniel.
Deb recalls one of her most memorable experiences on the job when she and her husband were the first on the scene to put out a major blaze at a private residence on Ryerson Rd.
“It was bad, and it was not far from our house. We did the initial knock down with the hose, and then put it out. It was a crazy night,” Deb remembers.
A Bit of Leisure Time
These days, Deb and Dan enjoy traveling and fishing- fishing everywhere! Their favorite spots are Islamorada in the Florida Keys, Bermuda, and Hawaii.
With her faithful 13-year-old chocolate Labrador Sadie Belle as her co-pilot, Deb regularly visits her mother “Grandma Jane” in Orient, NY, where Deb and Sadie Belle hang at the beach and go to wineries. She’s also proud of her cousin Kevin Webster who followed in her footsteps. Kevin is a fire chief in East Marion, NY.
When caught for a rare moment of down time, the Warwick resident matter-of-factly states, “I do this to help others in what is their darkest hour. It’s just a way of life. It comes from your heart. It’s helping people when they need it at that time. There’s emotional support, environmental support, and sometimes people need someone to help them fix a problem.”