For Lewis Cass Junior Nate LoCoco, it was always about firefighting.
His mother, Michelle Williams, says it’s in his DNA.
His late father, Kevin LoCoco, was a firefighter. His stepfather is a retired firefighter.
“It’s in my blood,” LoCoco said. “I don’t know anything else. I always say if the fire department doesn’t work for me I don’t know what I would do because that’s all I’ve ever known. I guess I’ll be mowing lawns for the rest of my life.”
LoCoco is just 17 years old. His firefighter dreams are still just that, a dream. He’s not old enough to experience a real run. But that time is not too far away. In autumn he will do an internship with the Kokomo fire brigade.
However, it’s not about thrills and excitement. LoCoco is focused on saving lives and property. It’s a must, not an adventure.
Despite this, he contributes to the New Waverly Fire Department as a volunteer. Last winter, he wrote a grant and the fire department received $5,250 from the United Way of Cass County to purchase SCBA personal face masks — self-contained breathing apparatus.
LoCoco wrote the grant because he was concerned about the team sharing masks during COVID. With the grant, each team member now has their own mask.
He was also concerned about respecting taxpayers’ money.
“We’ve only budgeted that much money each year,” he said. “If we had spent that money, we would have gone over budget by $5,200. [The grant] was just a way to be more conservative with the community’s taxpayer money.”
“His passion and dedication to the fire and emergency services is second to none, even at his current age,” said Bill Strahlem, Chief of the New Waverly Fire Department. “He shows himself willing to work when called and when not. I particularly remember a fire at Onward where I was servicing a tanker. I left the crime scene to refill my tanker in Walton. When I come down the block, Nate is standing by the fire hydrant, two umbilicals attached to the hydrant, radio in hand, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to help fill tank trucks.”
The comment about mowing the lawn? It sounded frivolous, but LoCoco owns his own lawn mowing business. It’s called Nates Lawncare LLC.
He took over the business from a family friend. He was 10 then.
He would push a lawnmower from door to door and continue the work that the family friend had started. He completed an apprenticeship as a ride-on mower. Now he gets the job done with a brand new commercial mower. He has a trailer, a truck, weed eaters and a leaf blower. When he needs help, he hires friends.
“I can literally tell you when you drive through Walton that he’s just a little guy hauling a mower,” said Lewis Cass Junior and Senior High School Principal Barrett Bates. “If you were from Walton, that was Nate.”
LoCoco focuses on customer satisfaction when it comes to mowing and gardening.
“Over the last two years, I’ve built relationships with my clients that I think a lot of companies don’t have,” he said. “I want to have a good relationship with them. I want them to know that if they need to call me to point out something we screwed up, that’s what they have to do. There’s not a single yard we mow that we don’t walk to the front door when we’re done and they’re like, “Does it look alright?”
His mother called him an old soul and said he was friendly with everyone from young children to people in their 80s.
That’s not all there is to know about Nate Lococo.
A few years after his father’s death, he started having seizures. Then there was the learning disability.
“I struggled quite a bit,” he said. “I was able to enforce that.”
He credits Lewis Cass’s staff with helping him find learning strategies that help him learn and retain information better.
“The people here at Lewis Cass have taken me by leaps and bounds from where I was,” he said. “I never saw myself going in that direction before. Without the employees here I would never be where I am now.”
LoCoco said he learns best when it comes to hands-on learning or when the learning is visual in nature.
“Our goal is to ensure that all students with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else in life,” said Kelley Cottingham, special education resource teacher at Lewis Cass. “Unless you work with these kids all the time, you don’t know – some people have disabilities that you don’t realize, but then they struggle when it comes to academics. So our goal is to make sure these students are well prepared for adulthood when they leave our doors.”
In recent years, a lot has been studied for the certifications of fire and rescue workers, his mother said.
Those certifications include Indiana Department of Homeland Security certification in Hazmat Awareness, Hazmat Operations, Rope Rescue Operations and Emergency Medical Responder, Strahlem said.
“He had to overcome his learning disability and learn how to get this information on his own in order to pass these tests,” Williams said. “His work ethic is such that once he makes up his mind he will make it.”
She said LoCoco learned that he can only rely on himself when it comes to studying and taking exams, although his stepfather was always nearby whenever his LoCoco had a firefighting question.
“Nate and I have probably known each other since fourth grade,” Bates said. “A lot of people think if you’re in a special school, there’s a label put on you. If you don’t know Nate, you won’t know this. And that is the goal of special education. To give the students the opportunity to be on an equal footing.”
LoCoco has created its own playing field through its passionate commitment.
“The fire department gives me time every day,” he said. “I don’t listen to music when I mow. I listen to fire department podcasts. I can’t turn it off. My brain just keeps spinning – ways to get better, ways to put people first.”
“I’m wired completely differently,” he said. “Clearly. Not everyone wants to walk into burning buildings.”
From firefighting to mowing, LoCoco plans to tackle whatever its future holds with passion and a people-centric mindset. And given the struggles he’s put into his life, there’s no reason to believe he hasn’t created a future as solid and unique as the playing field he’s built for himself.
“Never underestimate a child with goals,” his mother said.