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Multitalented Frazier student throws the javelin, fights fires

| Saturday, June 28, 2014, 3:08 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Drake Bucci of Frazier says his goal is to make the PIAA championships in the javelin as a junior next spring.

When the television news coverage highlights firefighters battling local fires, viewers see in the forefront firefighters blasting water on flaming buildings. But what viewers don't see is what happens behind the scenes or out of camera range.

Viewers do not see those working to make the firefighters' jobs easier, those on the hose line, setting up ladders, providing water for firefighters, changing their air bottles, tasks firemen do not have time to do when fighting the blaze.

One of those behind-the-scenes, out of camera range volunteers helping his community is Frazier Area School District junior-to-be Drake Bucci, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Frank Bartolomucci Sr., and uncle, Frank Bartolomucci Jr., as a member of the Newell Volunteer Fire Department.

Newell chief Steve Snyder referred to Bucci as “a good kid who puts in a lot of time with us. He is a third-generation fireman and he has a lot of initiative. Drake is genuinely interested in working as a fully qualified EMT and fireman, interested in serving his community. He has a positive attitude regarding what he does, including all the necessary training. He is very involved at fire calls and does all the outside work that we need. Drake will do whatever is necessary to assist firefighters or medical personnel. We are proud of him and wish there were more kids like him.”

At 16 years old, Bucci has been involved with firefighting for two years and, by law, since he is under 18 and is not permitted by to enter burning buildings, he remains outside the fire, doing whatever necessary to assist firefighters.

“I work on the hose line, direct water on fires, set up ladders, get tools, provide firemen water, and change their air bottles,” he said. “I do anything at fire scenes except physically go into a burning building.”

From his home several blocks from the fire department, when he was in elementary school he watched activities at the fire department and could not wait to become involved. Now, after having taken six months of EMT classes at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus, he assist paramedics.

“I am permitted to administer first aid medicine, set up heart monitors, assist with circulation and breathing issues, do first aid and put on spinal collars,” he said. “I am right below a paramedic in medical responsibilities and give first aid to firemen affected by smoke inhalation.”

Zach Keefer, Frazier health and physical education teacher and track coach, sees the same positive qualities in Bucci's efforts on the track.

After suffering concussions in middle school football, Bucci was not ready to abandon scholastic athletics and Keefer urged him to consider track.

“Drake was in my phys ed class and I knew he could throw the football,” Keefer recalled, “and I thought javelin might be a good event for him. At 6-1, 180 pounds, he has good size for a javelin thrower. With long arms and a long upper torso, he is built to be a javelin thrower.”

Add to Bucci's natural physical assets and a “tremendous work ethic,” Keefer added, and the result was a freshman who last year finished sixth at the WPIAL Class AA finals, one slot shy of qualifying for the PIAA championships.

“Even as a freshman last year Drake did not miss practice,” Keefer noted, “and as a sophomore this year was already helping younger throwers. Drake is a true student of the event and very coachable. He is a perfectionist and is hard on himself everyday in practice. He wants the perfect form, the perfect release. You do not usually see the progress he has made as a freshman or sophomore in the javelin, but rather that's something you see in juniors or seniors.”

Chuckling, Bucci recalls his first attempts at throwing the javelin.

When he first set foot on the track, he had no idea what events he might run and was unaware about throwing events, he said, “but coach knew me from phys ed class and middle school football and said, ‘Give it a try.' I found the javelin interesting and cool to do. After I learned the basics, my first throw in practice went about 100 feet. It was not good,” he said, emphasizing not. “But I stuck with it and practiced a ton as a freshman, and improved my technique and strength.”

Echoing Keefer's observations, Bucci agrees that his size seems to give him the proper leverage to throw the javelin.

“I'm tall and flexible,” he said, “which enables me to reach back and throw.”

Consistently throwing the javelin in the high 160s (feet) in practice, Bucci's top toss in competitions this season was 163 feet. In the high 150s, low 160s in meets, he consistently finished first, second or third.

However, at the May 15 WPIAL finals at Baldwin, poor weather conditions hampered all events and athletes, even forcing some events to be postponed. When Bucci stepped onto the runway, slippery conditions limited his throws, with his top toss at 140 feet.

His finish was obviously not what he wanted, he said, but he is using that result to motivate him for next season.

“My goal already for next year is to make it to the PIAA championships,” he proclaimed. “After my freshman year at WPIALs, I was disappointed with what happened this year, but the weather affected everybody. So my goal is to work and improve for next year. I'm hoping to throw 170 next year, 190 as a senior.”

But Bucci is looking forward to more than merely completing his track career.

His long-range plans are to become a pre-hospital nurse on a helicopter, a flight nurse, he noted, someone who assists patients prior to when they are admitted to a hospital following an injury or accident.

“I hope to be with patients on their way to a hospital and provide whatever care necessary,” he said.

Besides being on the track together, Keefer and Bucci share another kinship.

“Drake's EMT work hits close to me,” Keefer said. “My father, Tim, collapsed when he was running and another EMT who was running with him gave my dad CPR and saved his life. Drake and I talk about that, about the importance of his roles as a fireman and EMT.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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