October 21, 2021

Helping one of their own

Cortland firefighters tend farm of injured comrade

Joe McIntyre

Cortland firefighter Nate Krause and his son Bennett, right, help out Wednesday at Stephen Zelsnack’s farm in Marathon. Cortland firefighters are helping tend the farm for colleague Zelsnack, who was hurt in a car crash.

As soon as the Cortland city firefighters heard that Stephen Zelsnack — one of their own — was injured in a car crash on Nov. 30 they contacted the family to begin coordinating plans to have off-duty firefighters handle Zelsnack’s farm chores.

“By that Saturday, Dec. 1, we had crews down there to start everything,” Deputy Chief Wayne Friedman said.

Since then the firefighters have gone twice a day — 4:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. — to tend to the 228-acre farm with 40 sheep, 13 pigs and more than 100 beef cows.

Zelsnack, 48, of Marathon remains in critical, but stable condition in the neurological intensive care unit at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse. He had to undergo surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, said firefighter Derek Reynolds.

“They’re waiting for swelling to go down,” Reynolds said, speaking on the family’s behalf.

The crash was reported at 2:53 p.m. in Sempronious. Police said Zelsnack was traveling eastbound on Sayles Corners Road when he failed to stop at a stop sign at Route 41A and was struck by a northbound tractor-trailer driven by Timothy Shattuck. Shattuck was not injured.

Ways to help

Pancake Breakfast
When: 7 a.m. to noon, Jan. 13
Where: Marathon Fire Department, 2 Peck St., Marathon

Buy a shirt or donate
All the proceeds help the family, the farm and cover medical costs

Zelsnack was hired by the city fire department on Jan. 17, 2011. Reynolds said being a firefighter and a farmer were his two passions.

“Steve is the true definition of a fireman,” Reynolds said. “There was no call big or small he didn’t treat with 100 percent.”

Zelsnack is also a volunteer firefighter in Marathon and his brother is a captain at the department. Fire departments in Binghamton, where Zelsnack’s son works, have also been helping the family, Reynolds said, as have firefighters from departments in Norwich and Virgil.

Zelsnack is also fourth generation farmer. In September, he bought the farm his father owned since 1969.

“He’s not exactly the lay at home and watch TV guy,” Capt. Michael TenKate said.“He was always happy, always trying to achieve something. Steve is the hardest-working person I’ve ever known and he’s always has a smile.”

Reynolds recently brought therapy dogs to a union meeting to help relieve some of the stress and angst the department has been feeling.“It’s definitely an emotionally trying experience, Reynolds said. “We are family.”