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Firefighter Peter Pajakowski
Health and Safety chairman
IAFF Local 362
South Bend Fire Department
South Bend, IN
born or made?
I have often heard it said that firefighters are born, not made. I didn’t necessarily agree. I counted on the untold hours of training, the missed time with loved ones to drill until it is ingrained in us. Firefighters have the ability to put body into action from muscle memory sometimes so quickly we don’t have time to think.
I know training is vital to what we have chosen to do. There are some things we just can’t train for. We just act and know what to do. I will share with you what a 10-year-old boy taught me.
A brother of mine in the fire service knew I didn’t have a sitter for my son. His wife offered time at their home so our sons could play together and I could make our Monday night drill. They have two children, a boy about the same age as mine and a daughter who is 2 years old. As we arrived, his son was already waiting at the window, excited to play Xbox. I could hear the shrillness in my son’s voice as he was just as excited.
My son grabbed his handful of video games and we started the walk up the stairs to their second-floor apartment. As we got to the landing below our destination, the door opened and my brother greeted us. In the same instant, his 2-year-old daughter broke through the threshold and ran past him toward the stairs. She ran down the first two stairs and then, without warning, took a leap of faith on the stairwell!
I was at the bottom of the landing and my son was a few stairs ahead of me. He dropped everything and snatched the 2-year-old rocket out of the air. From the initial door opening to her launching herself down the stairwell, maybe two seconds ticked away. We had no idea she was coming, or maybe I had no idea. My son just reacted; he knew what to do and he made the save. Had I been first up the stairs, I am not sure what the outcome would have been, although I would like to believe it would have been the same.
I absolutely believe in drills and training to hone our skills. We all know how important training is. A 10-year-old boy was my teacher tonight. He taught me we are born this way. The selfless acts we have all witnessed, our ability to perform under the most adverse conditions, just knowing what to do and doing it. Our training serves us well, but there is something we are born with or we wouldn’t have chosen this path. My son has often said to me, “Dad, I want to be a firefighter just like you.” I think it’s the other way around, son; I want to be a firefighter just like you, son.