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Eagle Scout service project a phenomenal training tool, York City fire chief says

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The Eagle Scout service project of a teen whose grandfather is a retired York City fire chief will teach firefighter trainees to navigate small, obstacle-filled spaces in the dark calmly, and also help seasoned firefighters keep their skills honed, current city Fire Chief Chad Deardorff said.

"It's a phenomenal training tool," Deardorff said, adding he'd been thinking about adding one for some time. "We're excited to use it, and we're very appreciative of Max and the other Scouts."

Max Iacono, 16, of York Township, researched and designed the department's new SCBA competency maze. SCBA stands for self-contained breathing apparatus, which are the air tanks firefighters wear.

His fellow Scouts from Boy Scout Troop 69 of Jacobus then helped him build the maze, he said — with a big assist from Assistant Scoutmaster Mark Ness, who owns a woodworking shop, and Scoutmaster David Grove.

Serving the community runs in the teen's family.

Max, whose current rank is Life Scout, is the grandson of retired York City Fire Chief David Love and the son of Len and Jessica Iacono. Max's mom is a retired York County 911 dispatcher who in 2011 was named the county's dispatcher of the year.

Housed in the basement training area of the city's Station 9 firehouse at the corner of Roosevelt and Maryland avenues, the wooden maze is 4 feet high and 4 feet wide, built in 8-foot sections. The multiple units are modular so the maze can be reconfigured differently for every training session, and the units' "lids" are on hinges so trainers can see what's going on inside.

Life Scout Max Iacono, 16, of Jacobus Boy Scout Troop 69, is shown near the new SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) maze that he and fellow scout volunteers built for his Eagle Scout project at York City Fire Department - Station 9 in York City, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A lot of work: "Max did all the drawings and worked it out with the chief," Love said. "I was amazed when they started loading this stuff — it was a whole truckload full of lumber. Three different weekends they worked on it. The boys and girls were diligent in measuring and cutting and making sure things were square. … This thing is like 60 feet long."

Firefighters must navigate the maze wearing full turnout gear and SCBA blackout masks, which simulate the sightless conditions firefighters routinely face inside burning buildings.

"It's perfect," Deputy Fire Chief Bill Sleeger said on Friday as Max showed the maze to The York Dispatch. "This is real-world stuff here. This is what we encounter."

On Friday, one section had metal chains and rope dangling in it, intended to become entangled with SCBAs and hats. Other sections had chairs and mattresses in them. Another section forced trainees to slalom left and right several times to successfully navigate through it, and still another required them to crawl through a plastic drainage tube.

Sleeger said not every trainee will become a firefighter, in part because not all will learn to overcome the panic caused by claustrophobia. The maze, he said, gives probationary firefighters the chance to master that hurdle safely.

Probationary Firefighters Paul Vincent Jr., front, and Andrew Komar navigate the new SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) maze in the basement of York City Fire Station 9 on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The maze was built by Max Iacono, 16, (not pictured) and about 18 volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 69, of Jacobus, for Iacono's Eagle Scout project. Dawn J. Sagert photo

A demonstration: On Friday, probationary firefighters Paul Vincent Jr. and Andrew Komar went through the maze but didn't wear blackout masks. The tops of the units were opened as well, since it was a demonstration and not a real training exercise.

Both said the maze was still difficult to navigate even though they could see.

Max said he and his fellow Scouts went through the maze after building it, in their street clothes.

"It was very fun," he said. "We had kind of a race."

Probationary Firefighters Andrew Komar, left, and Paul Vincent Jr. enter the new SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) maze in the basement of York City Fire Department - Station 9 in York City, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The maze was built by Max Iacono, 16, (not pictured) and about 18 volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 69, of Jacobus, for Iacono's Eagle Scout project. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"Max is so bright. I'm more than proud of him," Love said. "He amazes me on a daily basis."

Troop 69 is part of the Boy Scouts' New Birth of Freedom Council. Max has three more merit badges to earn before he is considered by the council for the rank of Eagle Scout, he said.

He's also a member of the organization's Order of the Arrow, which is the Boy Scouts' National Honor Society.

Lives by the code: Max said participating in Scouting has given him confidence, and taught him leadership abilities and a real-world skill set. He's also made many friends, he said.

Probationary Firefighters Paul Vincent Jr., left, and Andrew Komar, right, pose for a photo with Life Scout Max Iacono, 16, front, and his grandfather, retired York City Fire Chief David Love, before entering the new SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) maze in the basement of York City Fire Department - Station 9 in York City, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. The maze was built by Iacono and about 18 volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 69, of Jacobus, for the teen's Eagle Scout project. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"It's taught me so many useful things," he said. "It gives you a code to live by, and I live by that."

Max started as a Tiger Scout, his father said. That's the rank of first-graders in Cub Scouts. The teen is also part of his church's youth group and band, plays guitar and is a member of Junior ROTC.

He's a straight-A student who is taking early college courses, according to Love.

"He's always been very involved in things," his mother said.

Asked when he finds time to do schoolwork, the Dallastown Area High School junior didn't hesitate.

"I make time," Max said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

Max Iacono, 16, of York Township, talks about one of the six section to the new SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) maze that he and fellow scout volunteers built for his Eagle Scout project at York City Fire Department - Station 9 in York City, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Iacono, is currently a Life Scout in Boy Scout Troop 69 in Jacobus. Dawn J. Sagert photo