Fighting Fires with Info

Nick Waneka, who has Becker MD, helps fire fighters find their way around a blaze

by Quest Staff on June 2, 2009 - 9:00pm

Nick Waneka recalls hanging around the fire house in his home town of Lafayette, Colo., from about the time he graduated from diapers. His dad was a volunteer fire fighter; his mom was in the department’s women’s auxiliary.

Now 29, he’s still hanging out at the fire house three days a week, eight hours a day, and he’d spend more time there if he could.

Waneka, who has Becker muscular dystrophy and uses a power wheelchair, isn’t a fire fighter, but he might as well be. Although he doesn’t climb ladders or lug around hoses, the volunteer work he performs is equally important.

When his fire fighter buddies do fire safety inspections in local buildings, they make note of floor plans, the location of shut-off valves for water, natural gas and electricity, and other information they might need in case of a fire.

Waneka, who has an associate’s degree in computer information systems, enters their notes into the department’s computer system, then uploads it to individual laptop computers carried in fire trucks. When the fire fighters head out to battle a blaze, Waneka usually has provided all the critical information they need, and talks it over with them via radio before they reach the fire.

“It’s important that we’re all working with the same knowledge,” he said. “You can’t be a team if you’re not on the same page.”

Waneka was MDA’s Colorado State Goodwill Ambassador for three years. He’s active in MDA fundraisers, especially with the Denver Harley-Davidson HOG chapter, because he’s big into motorcycles. He’s also made several appearances on local broadcasts of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

“The doctors and staff at MDA, the people of Lafayette and the fire fighters have helped me a lot. Volunteering is my way of giving back,” he said.

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