Tag Archives: firefighters

Home Away From Home

February 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Volunteer firefighters at the Bennington rural fire station believe saying, “It’s quiet,” could spell the difference between a boring night and one that ends badly.

When the firefighters’ beepers buzz, there is no telling what could be on the end of the call.

“I thought a GI bleed was the worst thing I’d ever smelled, but charred human flesh was worse,” Kim Miksich says.

As a volunteer firefighter for the past year, Miksich expects the unexpected.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that this petite blonde could strap on a 70-pound pack of gear and venture into the smoky darkness of a fire. Yet, a tough determination and reliance is obvious as she recalls her first training runs. Miksich’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature heated up just like the flickers of flame as she stepped into the pitch black. Even though she had an experienced firefighter to guide the way, it was still pretty scary.

Miksich, a 20-year veteran of nursing at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, realized at 41 years old that she no longer had a choice. She felt compelled to follow her dream of fighting fires, even if it meant not getting paid.

“I dove in headfirst and went for it,” Miksich says.

It was a longing Miksich harbored for almost 20 years. It took her almost a year to get in good enough shape to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test.

Miksich now volunteers at least three days of 12-hour shifts a month, staying overnight in the wide-open space of the station.

It was a huge life change. Married for 13 years, she would now have to spend nights away from her husband (who was supportive of her extra hours at the station). “He’s more worried about the dangerous aspects of the job,” she says.

Miksich, along with 44 other volunteers, covered 708 calls, 185 fires, and 523 rescues last year. All for free. Pride in service is evident all over the station, from the clean floors to the gleaming red, yellow, and blue firetrucks, to the smoke-stained coats.

The station—which opened in 2015—is immaculate. The cleanliness of the trucks and living quarters reflect this just as much as the hours the firefighters put in to save lives.

Assistant Chief Ben Tysor believes money normally spent on salaries can be spent on the facility, allowing them to better serve citizens.

It is a far cry from the former small white building down the street. It is no rinky-dink, country-bumpkin fire station. Donated by Darrell and Coe Leta Logemann, the warm brick of the building draws in visitors and volunteers. Tall, stately windows with squares outlined in bright red reflect the rustic scenery.

Opening the door, it feels a bit like a church. The stillness is a reminder of death, danger, and destruction. In the tribute room to the left, a pillar of the Twin Towers tilts to the side in a concrete frozen reminder of what could happen without courageous souls willing to risk their lives for others. The job, “a constant unknown,” matters as visitors stroll past a case filled with helmets, suits, and photos.

Fingers of sunlight reach out to an old hose cart, purchased in 1912 for $13 by the Village of Bennington (a historical reminder of those long-gone firefighters who remain part of the squad).

Chief Brent Jones continues this “family” feeling by staying in touch even with volunteers who have left.

“I spend a lot of time there. It is like a second home,” Jones says.

One of his toughest days recently included 10 calls in a 24-hour period. He hadn’t slept, so downtime in one of the black leather chairs created much-needed relaxation and peace. About eight of these same movie-style recliners are in one room facing a flat-screen television.

Firefighters can also make a meal in the vast kitchen complete with a center island. A stainless steel refrigerator and freezer filled with frozen pizzas, a slab of prime rib, or other items labeled with volunteers’ names fill the insides. Or they can help themselves to a pop from the fountain machine or fresh salted popcorn.

It’s meant to be a home away from home. Upstairs, eight bedrooms complete with bed, television, and desk give it a laid-back vibe. A full locker room comes in handy when someone comes in to use the modern weight room which overlooks the trucks (a reminder to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice—perhaps using the fireman’s pole behind a closed door).

Volunteers must meet three Mondays out of the month for emergency medical or fire training and business meetings. A big time commitment, but necessary.

“[Volunteering] is a disease. Once it is in your blood, you can’t get it out,” Jones says.

Jones, a 14-year volunteer, loves the challenge. But mainly, it is his way of serving the community. Jones spends 25 to 30 hours a week in Bennington, and about 56 hours on his regular job as a firefighter in Lincoln, where he has worked for the past 16 years. His wife also volunteers when she isn’t working as a paramedic with Midwest Medical Transport.

Although downtime seems like a minimum, pranks are still played. Jacked up trucks, water dumped on heads, and snakes in the lockers are classic.

One firefighter laughs as he plans to scratch at the door of a co-worker who believes a ghost roams the station randomly leaving the showers and sinks running.

Some of the firefighters believe they bring the spirits back after a trip. Although it is possible, the building may just be too new.

“Just don’t say the word quiet,” Jones says again. “Something will happen.”

Visit benningtonfirerescue.com for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Homes for Heroes

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When mortgage loan officer Michael Petrovich with The Private Mortgage Group in Omaha was offered the chance to work with the national Homes for Heroes program, he says it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show his thanks to those we depend on.

The program—which uses the tagline ‘Service Deserves Its Rewards’—offers discounts on real estate-related services to active and retired military, police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other civil servants that serve our communities and our country.

“My dad was a fireman for years with the Omaha Fire Department, and a good friend of mine’s dad is a retired Omaha police officer,” Petrovich says. “I also have a lot of friends in the military. [The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference…saving them some money when buying a home.”

Petrovich says as a Homes for Heroes affiliate member, he offers “hero” homebuyers free home appraisals, which are often required for home purchases and refinances handled by his firm. Waiving the fee saves the homebuyer $400. Fellow Private Mortgage Group employees Pete Coen and Jeremy Wilhelm are also affiliate members.

“[The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference.” – Michael Petrovich, The Private Mortgage Group

“We can offer the discounts to any qualifying client in the Omaha/Fremont territory we cover. All they need to do is sign up on the Homes for Heroes website, and it directs them to all the affiliates in the area,” Petrovich explains.

Real estate agents make up a large number of HFH affliliate members nationally. Locally, Prudential Ambassador Real Estate agents Michelle Gustafson, Gary Gernhart, Mamie Jackson, and Matt Anderson are affiliates. “We know the agents [at Prudential], and we’ve worked together to offer clients the HFH discounts. It’s been a team effort,” Petrovich adds.

The Homes for Heroes program was first created in 2002 by a group of lenders and Realtors in Minneapolis in response to the tragic events of 9/11. Petrovich was among the first Homes for Heroes affiliate members in Nebraska, joining in November 2012 when the program first launched in Omaha. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit, comprised of Realtors, lenders, and other real estate-related service providers, now has approximately 750 affiliates nationwide serving homeowners in 44 states.

Steve Minino, a Realtor with NP Dodge Real Estate, is another Homes for Heroes affliate in Omaha. Along with Realtors Deb and Mark Hopkins (all part of the Hopkins Home Team), Minino got involved when he learned about the program on the local news.

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us,” he says. “It was definitely a win-win situation.

“My family also has a long tradition of members serving in the Marine Corps. We liked the idea of helping out family and friends who serve and who could really benefit.”

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us. It was definitely a win-win situation.” – Steve Minino, NP Dodge Real Estate

As an affiliate, Minino says he offers 25 percent of his sales commission back toward the purchase process for Homes for Heroes clients. “This money is typically applied toward the closing costs being paid by the homebuyer,” he says. “If the buyer is not responsible for closing costs, then the money is donated to a charity of their choice.”

Minino also donates another five percent of his commission directly back to the Homes for Heroes organization, which they use to fund other projects, including the rehabing of homes to accommodate injured veterans.

“We’re currently working with several Heroes clients, and we hope to grow that number in the next six months or so.”

Millard Public Schools teacher Stephanie Poltack and her fiancé, Aaron Mackel, recently purchased a home together in West Omaha and took advantage of discounts offered by several local Homes for Heroes affliliates. “My Realtor, Judy Kramer with Prudential, told me about [Homes for Heroes] and referred me,” Poltack says. “Through the program, we received closing-cost assistance and got a discounted home inspection, and The Private Mortgage Group gave us a free home appraisal. I believe we saved $1,325 in all.

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to us,” Poltack adds. “We were able to use the money saved to go out and buy a washer and dryer. It’s a great program, and I think if more people were aware of it, more would take advantage of it.”

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to [my fiancé and me].” – Stephanie Poltack, teacher

Nationally, several media outlets and Hollywood celebrities have helped publicize the good works being done by Homes for Heroes’ affiliates nationwide, including Sean Hannity with Fox News, actor Gary Sinise, and the Orlando Magic basketball franchise. However, the nonprofit has grown primarily through word of mouth via the internet and news media.

Petrovich says one of the goals of the Omaha-area affiliates is to raise awareness of the Homes for Heroes program in Nebraska and encourage participation by our local heroes.

“We’re getting together to discuss ways to advertise,” he said. “We’ve placed ads in the Fremont paper, hung posters in firehouses and around town…We want our civil servants and military to know we support them and say thank you for serving our country and our community.”