First Posted: 7/24/2013
When Master Sgt. William Janczewski and other firefighters at Little Rock Air Force Base got called into the office a while back, Janczewski expected bad news.
“Nothing good arrives,” he said of those meetings Wednesday by phone.
But this time was the exception.
The Harding native and the rest of the assembled group heard a voice on a speakerphone announce him as the recipient of the “Air Force Times Airman of the Year.”
The award was for his heroic and courageous effort to put out a fire dangerously close to 40,000 gallons of aviation fuel and evacuate aircraft and people safely during an enemy mortar attack at the forward operating base he was stationed at in north central Afghanistan last year.
He also was honored for the volunteer work he and his wife, Jessica, do supporting families with children born with heart defects, like their 6-year-old son, Ethan.
“I was kind of taken aback by it,” Janczewski, 36, said. “I think one of the Navy guys (who also was honored) put it best, ‘Why me?’ ”
He was commended for what he’s trained for, and what he’s always wanted to do as a firefighter since joining the Air Force upon graduation from Wyoming Area High School in 1995.
“It was something that they saw that I guess I really didn’t,” said Janczewski with the 119th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Emergency Services.
Incident in Afghanistan
Late in the afternoon at Camp John Pratt last October a fire caused by hot coals thrown into a Dumpster ignited about 10 feet from two, 20,000-gallon fuel bladders. Out of sight of the blaze on the other side of a protective blast wall, helicopters were refueling.
Janczewski, the base fire chief, led the team of six firefighters and prevented a catastrophe. The firefighters contained the blaze using foam and prevented the tanks from igniting. Janczewski made sure the people and aircraft were out of danger.
“I was yelling at them to get the birds out of the area,” he said.
Medical-transport helicopters and aircraft used in special operations refuel at the base. “It was imperative that we didn’t let the place burn up,” he said.
He credited the ability to work under pressure to the training he and the other firefighters undergo.
He’s been training since a teenager when he volunteered with the Mt. Zion and West Pittston fire departments.
He has the benefit of two former fire chiefs in the family. His father, William Janczewski, held the position with the Mt. Zion volunteer fire company in Exeter Township. His uncle, John Janczewski, was chief in West Pittston.
His mother, Wendy Sartin, lives in Jenkins Township. His father lives in West Pittston.
Assistant fire chief
In Little Rock, Janczewski serves as assistant chief and responds to calls ranging from house fires and motor vehicle crashes to hazardous materials incidents, aircraft and medical emergencies.
When not on the job, he and his wife provide support to other parents with children born with congenital heart defects. The couple’s son, Ethan, has had open heart surgery and essentially has half a heart that functions. The Janczewskis work with Mended Little Hearts of Little Rock, answering questions and sharing their experiences dealing with their son.
“It’s just parents being concerned for their children,” Janczewski said.
He’s glad to be part of a support network, having gone through what many of them are going through. “My phone’s never off at all,” Janczewski said.