Carly Q. Romalino, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
Published 4:33 p.m. ET June 14, 2019 | Updated 3:31 p.m. ET June 17, 2019
Father and son, Drew and Ryan Sole, talk about being firefighters for the Wenonah Volunteer Fire Company. Adam Monacelli, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
Glendora Fire Company Chief Michael Ricciardelli fights fires with his son Michael. (Photo: Adam Monacelli/Staff Photographer)
Dads do all they can to protect their kids.
What if it’s your duty to send your kid into a burning building or toward a gas leak?
There are no shortage of father-kid teams in firefighting. Glendora Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Ricciardelli and retired Wenonah Fire Chief Drew Sole— both dads working alongside their sons — shared with the Courier Post their proudest dad moments in the fire service and the times they’ve feared for their sons’ lives.
Helping the community together
“My kids only know me as the chief,” Ricciardelli said, recalling his kids playing in the fire house when they were as young as 7.
Ricciardelli joined Glendora’s all-volunteer company in 1983 and served as chief since 1995.
His daughter Lisa and son Mike joined as teenage junior firefighters. His daughter left before fire school. Mike — a Rutgers-Camden student — finished the fire academy and has worked alongside his dad since 2014.
The Riccardellis’, father and son fire fighting team, talk about the legacy of volunteer service for the Glendora Fire Company. Adam Monacelli, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
“I have an opportunity to come here and help the community together, go on calls and do things, like a fire or car accident, that some people don’t have the courage to do,” the younger Ricciardelli said.
“It’s different than being at home and helping him cut the grass. I’m actually helping him save somebody’s life.”
The Camden County father-son team has worked so long it feels like second nature to both be at the fire house.
But there are always times — after the adrenaline of a call fades — that Ricciardelli realizes how much is at stake.
On a mutual aid call in Chews Landing in Gloucester Township, the chief called for his men to cut a hole in the roof of the house. The chief was inside and black smoke was descending on him quickly, he recounted.
He yelled to two men on the roof — one holding a chain saw — to cut a hole.
Later, Mike mentioned to his dad he’d cut his first roof hole on that call.
“My son made my job easier,” the chief said.
“I sent him a text, ‘I don’t know what’s harder, being your dad or being your chief and sending you into something where I might not see you again.”
‘An element of protection’
Michael Ricciardelli holds his custom made respirator at the Glendora Fire Company on Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Photo: Adam Monacelli/Staff Photographer)
Wenonah’s retired Chief Drew Sole knows that fatherly fear.
He was the first in his Gloucester County family to join the fire service 45 years ago. He served as chief for 25 years. Ryan Sole, 23, joined as a junior firefighter at 16 and graduated the fire academy at 18.
“There’s definitely an element of protection,” Chief Sole explained.
“When he became a full-fledged firefighter, I wanted to be there to make sure he was taken care of.”
Drew Sole remembers vividly as Ryan threw on his gear and went right into a warehouse for a gas leak call.
Ryan Sole, currently a Wenonah Fire Company captain, fought fires with his father Drew, who retired as chief of the department. (Photo: Adam Monacelli/Staff Photographer)
“I panicked and quickly put my stuff on,” the chief said, remembering his son entering the building by himself as the daytime crew of responders was thin.
“I never put my (gear) on so fast in my life,” Drew Sole said.
“Would I have done that for anybody else? Absolutely. But did I step it up because I didn’t want to have to go home and tell his mother something happened to our son? It’s definitely an internal thing. Definitely to the heart.”
For all of dad’s worry or his feelings of looming guilt, there are major elements of pride and gratitude between them.
“He was on my very first fire,” Ryan Sole remembered.
“We were inside together. It was a neat experience and I’ll never forget that.”
Michael Ricciardelli is proud of his dad every time he hears his voice on the radio, he said.
“It’s something to look up to,” the younger Ricciardelli said.
“It’s a proud moment to see your dad take charge of a call or hear him on the radio and you know it’s your dad and he’s making the calls and people are listening to him.”
Carly Q. Romalino; @carlyqromalino; 856-486-2476; firstname.lastname@example.org