Banker Battles Blazes as Volunteer Fire Chief

This Delaware man takes pride in helping people buy their dream home – and also keeping them safe as fire chief in a role that can find him responsible for as many as 100 firefighters at a fire scene.

SELBYVILLE, DEL. – By day, Matt Sliwa is a mortgage loan officer at PNC. By night, and on the weekends, he serves this community’s 2,300 residents as their volunteer fire chief.

Science and medicine always fascinated Sliwa. In high school, he volunteered in an emergency room and started college as a pre-med major. He later switched his focus to finance, which led him to down the path of becoming a loan officer.

At PNC, Sliwa helps people with the financial aspect of buying a home. Yet, he felt he could do something more. He joined the local fire department and took a free Emergency Medical Technician course from the Delaware State Fire School.

He knew right away that he was in the right place. In the past eight years, he has held the offices of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) lieutenant, EMS captain, rescue captain, board member and first assistant chief. He was elected fire chief this year.

As a mortgage loan officer and volunteer fire chief, Matt Sliwa says: “Trust and teamwork are critical for both roles”

At the Scene: Confidence and Humility

The transition to the top post has been an eye-opening experience.  

“You think you know a job, but when you are the guy in charge, it creates a new level of responsibility,” Sliwa said.

As fire chief, he interacts regularly with Sussex County fire officials and has gained a deeper understanding of fire service operations and administration. He is involved in everything from creating new procedures, to purchasing equipment and on-site fire management.

“I’m not just an operational fire chief, I’m responsible for everything on a fire scene,” he said.

Sliwa leads a company of 60 firefighters, but can have up to 100 firefighters on a scene looking to him for leadership. Quick decision-making is a critical aspect to his job along with the ability to reevaluate situations and change course.

Fires are unpredictable. You must be confident in your decision making, yet humble enough to quickly change course in response to the situation.

When Seconds Matter

Rushing into burning buildings is only part of a firefighter’s job description. With his EMT training, Sliwa also responds to medical emergencies. Recently, he received a call that a man in his neighborhood was in cardiac arrest. Sliwa was the first to respond, arriving on the scene within minutes. He began performing CPR until the paramedics arrived. His quick response, along with the team effort of the medical responders, saved the man’s life.

“It makes me proud to see him out walking around in the community,” Sliwa said. “Besides the birth of my twin girls, there is no greater feeling than knowing that you helped save someone’s life.”

Matt Sliwa was elected fire chief in 2015

I admit that I was terrified on my first structure fire. It’s not the safest job in the world, but you get used to it. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so it suits me well. Plus, I get to use my medical training and serve my community at the same time.