Student Journalist afraid of losing first-responder parents

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RJ Zirbel, DJ & Chase Mulvany, and Student Journalist Skyler Zirbel posing on top of her dad's rig, FDNY Ladder 30.

 ~Dedicated to my amazing parents, Karen and Robert Zirbel, and all the other first responders out there. Thank you for your service.~

My name is Skyler Zirbel. I am 10 years old, and my mom is a detective in Poughkeepsie, and my dad is a firefighter in New York City. In fact, that is what I am writing about.

Having both parents as first responders is very scary. I mean, once my parents leave, they might never come back. That one good-bye before they left could’ve been the last good-bye. And, the thing is, it’s not just scary at a time like this, where a virus is going around, and they are some of the people that work for the few jobs that still work during the pandemic. It is scary all the time.

I remember one night, my dad getting a call around midnight. But it wasn’t a call from a family member, or a friend checking in on him. It was a call from the fire department. One of his friends had died. I remember him telling my mom about what had happened. He had been working, and in a building that caught on fire. He tried to get out of it safely once the other people inside were out, but it was too late. His air tank was out, and he wasn’t near an exit where others could go into the building and save him. He left behind a wife and four kids. The oldest kid was only seven years old. I was sad for that person and his family. But then, thoughts started racing through my head. And the biggest one was; what if that was my dad?

Skyler and RJ Zirbel with their dad, Rob Zirbel, FDNY Ladder 30.

My mom’s friend died too. And the same sort of thoughts came back to my head; what if that was my mom? And although I don’t even know those people who died, it’s still sad. But thinking about my parents dying… now that’s just one hundred times worse.

Now, I know that I am terrified of them dying, or even getting hurt, but then I think about how they might feel. 

My parents always say they do it for our family. For a nice family vacation, and amazing things. But I much rather have my parents safe than going on a family vacation. 

If there is one word that would never describe my parents, it is selfish. They risk their lives for others. Which, sometimes, I get mad at.

I am not going to lie, I am not selfish. It’s just, sometimes, I wish my parents would put themselves first. I love that they are willing to put their own lives at stake for other lives, and that shows that they are truly good people.

Detective Karen Zirbel with Chief Pape and Captain Wilson discussing the Safe Passages program.

Either way, my parents are amazing people, and twice as amazing as parents. I know what they do is very dangerous, and something I would never be able to do. And a big part of what I am saying comes from where they work.

I’ve been to Poughkeepsie and New York City many times. They are both extremely hard places to work, especially being a police officer or firefighter. Where the work is very different from where I live. I remember last year, doing an event with my mom and dad in Poughkeepsie, where we gave out Christmas presents to kids who didn’t have that. I remember realizing how lucky me and my family were, and how both of my parents were amazing people.

I love my parents so much. They are amazing people, and I hope that they realize it.

About the author:
My name is Skyler Zirbel. I am 10 years old and go to Beekman Elementary School. Some things I like to do are play soccer and softball, play guitar, hang out with my friends. Because of the COVID-19 issue, I can say goodbye to all that.

Skyler in her mom’s police cruiser.

According to Skyler’s mom, the author loves reading books and writing stories. The young lady is described as “an old soul” that is very mindful. In addition to playing softball on a team coached by her dad, she also loves watching her brother RJ play baseball on a team also coached by her dad. Skyler loves playing with her dog Loki.

Mid-Hudson News has launched a “Student Journalist” section to allow elementary, middle, and high-school students to write essays or “news as they see it” for submission. 

If you have a student that is interested in writing a submission, please send an email to Todd Bender at and ask for the submission requirements.

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