East Lyme — Dependable is the one word Flanders Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Levandoski would use to describe fellow firefighter Tom Redden.
"He's one of the ones where you look behind and he's there. You never worry about it," Levandoski said.
In just the few years that Redden has spent as a volunteer at Flanders Fire Department, the 18-year-old has already earned his colleagues' respect. They call him a hard worker, a go-getter and someone passionate about the fire service.
"It's people like Tom that become career firefighters," Levandoski said.
Tom, an East Lyme High School student who will graduate Friday, is vmodest about his achievements. He said he loves East Lyme, and volunteering lets him help others.
"It's the greatest job in the world. There's always opportunities to learn and it's challenging," Redden said. "I've met some great people and had a great time."
In the past few months, he's been juggling high school course work with preparing for college and volunteering. He has a pager so he can respond at all hours.
"He may be exhausted, but he still goes to school," said his mother, Kelly.
Tom's father, Robert, encouraged Tom to be a firefighter, thinking it would be a good direction for his son. His uncle, Michael Steinbuchel, works for the Haddam Neck Volunteer Fire Department.
"He's a nice kid and very dedicated. He likes helping people. It's the perfect fit for him," Steinbuchel said. "He's made for it."
His father works at the maintenance department at the Naval Submarine Base where he handles large rigs like firetrucks. When Tom was younger, he always asked to come visit and sit in the trucks.
Tom joined the fire department in Niantic when he was just 14 years old. He worked his way through the junior auxiliary, holding almost every officer position in the group. At 15, he started volunteering with the Flanders Fire Department.
Most recently, he helped the fire department pump out hundreds of residents' basements during the massive flooding in March. But he's also got a taste of firefighting, responding to the abandoned JC Penney warehouse fire and a fire that destroyed a historic home in the Crescent Beach section of Niantic.
"He jumped out of the truck, looked at the situation and got started," his father said about the Crescent Beach fire. "He was gone like a kid in a candy store."
His parents said their son has matured with the fire department. He spends as much time as he can at the fire house, and when he has time he likes to help out the younger firefighters.
"I can see him being a role model in the future," Levandoski said.
Flanders firefighter Ed Waido added: "He's a good example for the younger guys."
Dan Summers worked with Tom as an adviser for the junior auxiliary fire program. He said that Tom has not only grown a foot, but he's grown as a person.
Tom recently got his Firefighter I certification. Now he is working on his commercial driver's license.
In the fall, Tom plans to enroll at Three Rivers Community College for its fire technology program. After two years, he said he wants to transfer to the University of New Hampshire to study fire investigation.
"I've always been interested in why things happen," Redden said, "the ins and outs of things."