Kelly Tascarella runs toward dangers that, rightfully, would send others fleeing in the opposite direction.
At just 22, Tascarella already has nearly six years under her belt as a volunteer firefighter with the Fort Washington Fire Company.
“You have to be confident in your abilities, in your training and your team. Responding to an emergency call — and you treat every call as if it is definitely a fire — it’s a feeling that I can’t really describe,” said Tascarella, who will graduate in May with a degree in Criminal Justice. “The firefighters are my family; they are my brothers and sisters and I’ve learned so much from them.”
Having consciously dedicated her life to helping others at the most terrifying time in their lives, it’s not difficult to understand why Tascarella plans to head to the Temple University Municipal Police Academy after graduation.
“When I was 5-years-old, I started taking Tae Kwon Do and that led me to the idea of protecting others. I always idolized police officers; I always wanted to become one,” said Tascarella. “I love helping people; that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. The best way to do that is to keep them safe.”
Tascarella has a laundry list of certifications to back that up from first aid and CPR, hazardous materials operations and ambulance-level emergency vehicle operations certification to vehicle rescue, water rescue and rapid intervention. She also achieved her black belt in Tae Kwon Do when she was 11-years-old and is additionally certified in scuba diving.
“I chose Temple because the criminal justice program has such a great name behind it and a fantastic reputation in the field,” said Tascarella, of Dresher, who became president of the Criminal Justice Society at Temple University Ambler. “Ambler Campus proved very conveniently located for me and gave me ample opportunity to take on leadership roles and get involved — I can proudly say ‘I did something, I made a difference.’ while I was in college. I’ve also always had the option to tap into the resources of Main Campus — that combination of opportunities was very attractive to me.”
While completing her degree, Tascarella has taken every opportunity to “explore all aspects of law enforcement and safety services.” In addition to being a volunteer firefighter, she has been a police dispatcher for the Abington Police Department, a security intern at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts, a protection specialist at Target and a crossing guard with the Upper Dublin Township Police.
“I think it’s very important to understand all of the components of the field that I want to work in,” she said. “I enjoy expanding my knowledge base. Any time I have an opportunity to learn, I’m going to take it.”
While at Temple, Tascarella also took part in the ProRanger Philadelphia Program, a partnership between Temple University and the National Park Service to train park rangers. As part of the program, she interned at Valley Forge National Historical Park during summer 2015.
“The park rangers have such a passion for what they do. I learned so much about our national parks and about law enforcement while I was in the program,” said Tascarella, who received the Elizabeth Clarke Award for Conservation Education in 2016. “The National Park Service was not quite the right fit for what I want to do with my career, but I think it provides extremely valuable experience and opportunities for any student interested in law enforcement.”
The lessons she’s learned as a student at Temple, combined with the lessons learned as a firefighter — the compassion, the perseverance — stay with you, Tascarella said.
“When I was 17, I responded to my first fatal accident. One of the people involved in the accident was dazed, not knowing what to do,” she said. “I put a blanket around them, stayed with them, comforted them and calmed them down. That really hit me. Amid everything that was going on I needed to make sure that person was cared for; I’ve never forgotten that.”
Tascarella also recalled a house fire in Ambler where she heard a sound no firefighter wants to hear.
“It was the evacuation tone — three loud air horns. That’s when you know you need to get out, that the building might collapse,” she said. “I was on the second floor; going down the stairs, I tripped and my mask came off. You can’t let yourself panic in those moments. I picked myself up and everyone got out okay.”
According to Tascarella, she is confident she can tackle anything a career in law enforcement can throw at her.
“I know how to handle emergency situations. I know I can step up; I know I can handle it,” she said. “Temple has given me a lot of leadership opportunities and I’ve made connections and friendships that will last a lifetime. I’ve been able to take classes where you walk in and know everyone and have had interactions with teachers who care about you as a person. Those experience have been nothing but beneficial as I get ready to get to work!”