ALDEN, N.Y. — Volunteer firefighters train countless hours, answer the call whenever it sounds, and risk their lives to help their neighbors, all without ever earning a paycheck. For those reasons and many more, they all can be considered to be the “Selfless Among Us.” But one fire chief in Alden recently used his skills and training to save his own baby’s life, and deserves special recognition.
Steven Krawczyk wanted to be a firefighter for as long as he can remember.
"Service to the community is everything," he said.
Inspired by the heroic first responders on September 11, 2001, the very next year when he turned 14 and was old enough to join the Millgrove Volunteer Fire Department in Alden, he did.
"I've been regular fireman, lieutenant, captain, first assistant, second assistant. I've done it all," he said.
In the past 20 years, Krawczyk, who owns a small engine repair business, has spent thousand of hours in first aid and firefighting training, at drills, community events and responding to calls. Krawczyk was elected chief of Millgrove this past January.
A month later, his training went into action at home, when his wife Christine, pregnant with their second child, had complications.
"It helps having an EMT in the house because I took my blood pressure and I said, ‘this has got to be wrong.’ And Steve pulled out his cuff and did it manually and said, ‘no, it's right and you have to go to the hospital,’" Christine Krawczyk recalled.
Because of complications with preeclampsia, on Feb. 15, baby Oliver was delivered at just 25 weeks. He weighed 1 pound 7 ounces and was 11 inches long.
"When you're born that early, you're not breathing for yourself. He went straight on a ventilator. He was intubated. They're essentially keeping him alive," said Steven Krawczyk.
Oliver stayed at Oishei Children's Hospital for three and a half months before he was finally able to come home.
But on June 28, Primary Day, they almost lost him, had it not been for Steven Krawczyk - his daddy - coming to the rescue.
"My in-laws came over and they were visiting with him while Steve and I went to go vote and we were leaving the polling place they called and said he doesn't really look good. We were just two minutes up the road. We came home and he was gone. He was blue. He was not breathing and Steve immediately stepped in," Christine Krawczyk said.
Steven Krawczyk said his training immediately kicked in.
“I kind of let the dad go away. I worked on him, worked on him, worked on him (by patting his back repeatedly). My father went out (to the chief’s car in the driveway) and got some oxygen. We got him on adult flow of oxygen and that's probably what saved his life,” Steven Krawczyk said. “I would say probably for someone in that situation who didn't have their equipment right then and there, he probably would've passed away."
Erie County Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, Dan Neaverth, Jr., says all volunteer firefighters train for long hours in order to save lives, but doing what Steven Krawczyk did that day – saving the life of his own baby - was heroic.
"When it's your own family member it's a completely different dynamic, and it's very, very difficult. Your training kicks in and you go through it but trust me you're in a fog the entire time you're dealing with it,” Neaverth said.
Steven and Christine Krawczyk say they’re grateful for the support of the Millgrove Fire Department family, and the entire volunteer firefighting community that has offered to help them, while they spent time in the hospital with Oliver and also cared for their 2-year-old daughter Hannah and continued to work their day jobs. They said they wouldn’t have been able to balance it all and make it all work without the support they’ve received.
Steven Krawczyk says he’ll always look back on that day as the shining example of why he wanted to become a firefighter- to be there to help his neighbors, and in this case, his family.
"I've been on countless CPR calls. We've won some, and lost some. Unfortunately, you don't win them all. This was a day we won. And a day that luckily down the road we can tell my son, he was a product of good training, and who knows maybe that'll lead him into doing the same thing," said Steven Krawczyk.
If you know someone who should be featured in the Selfless Among Us series, email Melissa.Holmes@wgrz.com.