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Family tradition of firefighting helps N.Y. teen save man

Nolen Carney and his father were in New York City when that saved a man who had overdosed


Nolen Carney, a 16-year-old student at PSLA at Fowler has been credited with saving a persons life who experiencing an overdose (Melissa Newcomb|

By Melissa Newcomb

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — As a 16-year-old boy, Nolen Carney lives a life similar to a lot of teenagers. He goes to high school, spends time with his family and plays basketball. But he added a new, unusual accomplishment to his resume this fall.

On September 16, he saved a life when he administered naloxone and performed chest compressions on an unconscious man who had overdosed.

“My dad and I were just on our way home,” Carney said. “But as we were driving by I saw a man laying down. So I told my dad to turn around because it looked suspicious.”

After Carney assessed the situation, he went to his dad’s car and got naloxone. It had been passed out at a festival in New York City when they were there visiting family. Luckily, it was still in the car.

Carney and his father gave the unconscious man two doses up his nostrils. But it didn’t seem to work at first.

“So I started giving him chest compressions until the first responders came,” Carney said.

After first responders arrived to the scene near the corner of West Genesee and Liberty Streets, the man began to open his eyes.

Carney said he was just grateful that he was able to help.

The teen had continued his family tradition of saving lives. If he follows his dream of becoming a firefighter, he would be the third generation of his family to go into the profession.

“The decision to stop and help: I think that’s what really needs to be applauded in this situation, it’s awesome,” Syracuse Fire District Chief Matthew Craner said.

The fire department honored Carney at a ceremony at his school.

Carney credits some of his emergency response skills to the fire rescue program at his high school, PSLA at Fowler, that he has been participating in for three years.

For 90 minutes a day, Carney participates in a fire-rescue class where he learns first aid, EMT training, how to put on fire gear, use equipment and other skills.

Long before the class, Carney was putting on gear and learning about firefighting. His passion for the job and desire to help others runs in his family. He has three uncles with successful, local firefighting careers.

“He was just fascinated by it,” said Duriel Carney, an uncle who was a Syracuse district fire chief before retiring in 2020.

When his uncle would visit in his uniform with the firetruck, Carney would put the gear on.

“Then my brother would tell me what he was doing at home: ‘Nolen is donning clothing,’ ” the uncle said.

When firefighters don or put on their gear, they strive to put all of it on in under 60 seconds so they can respond quickly to an emergency, Duriel Carney said.

“He began to set up makeshift boots, gear and a coat, everything laid out and as a little boy he was doing it as fast as he possibly could,” the uncle recalled.

The nephew would time himself in an effort to improve his speed at donning.

At first, the uncle did not know if it was a phase that would come and go. But with passing years, his nephew’s passion only grew.

Nolen Carney began listening to the county fire scanner and figuring out the terminology that is used on the radio. He began doing firefighting simulations on the computer.

Before his three uncles became firefighters, there was an uncle in the previous generation who was a firefighter.

Duriel Carney thinks his nephew has the necessary skills and moral character to excel in the field. But he is cautious not to give him advice on whether to pursue the career.

“There’s high highs and low lows as a firefighter,” he said. “It’s a difficult job because it’s dangerous. I’ve had close calls. So it’s kind of scary to even suggest it to your family.”

Carney’s fire-rescue teacher, Anthony Jarvis, thinks that he has a promising future.

“If I was going to pick out five students who are going to be firefighters, Nolen would be one or two on that list,” Jarvis said.

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