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Brothers Saving Brothers

Brothers Saving Brothers

Mike Polaski, who underwent rehab at Riverside Methodist Hospital, said he plans to return to the Columbus Division of Fire in several months, then retire in two years. [Columbus Fire Department]

Columbus Dispatch via YellowBrix

August 23, 2010

COLUMBUS – The firefighters at Station 16 were taking a break when the alarm sounded just before 11 p.m.

The basement fire on Robert Street was the ninth call for the men on a snowy Saturday in February. Lt. Mike Polaski, the officer in charge that day, climbed into his usual passenger seat of the fire engine for the 1-mile ride.

When the crews arrived at the one-story house, they saw smoke, but the family was safely outside.

Polaski and about 10 other firefighters made their way through the cluttered, smoke-filled basement with a hose. Within a few minutes, they found the fire in the far corner behind the furnace, where a child living in the house had started it. Polaski’s crew began spraying water on the fire.

J.D. Vasbinder – part of the three-member rescue crew that gets people out of fires, turns off the utilities and ventilates buildings – asked Polaski if he needed anything else.

Polaski said his crew had the fire under control.

As the rescue crew turned to walk to the stairs, they heard a thud.

Firefighter Dave Pence, also on the rescue crew, saw Polaski go down. “Through the smoke, you saw the silhouette fall back,” he said.

Pence and Mike King, who was on Polaski’s crew, rushed over.

Vasbinder called over the radio: “Mayday! Firefighter down!”

Polaski has been a Columbus firefighter for 37 years.

A friend who worked with him at a sporting goods store suggested they both take the civil-service test. He said a firefighter’s schedule – 24 hours on, 48 hours off – would be perfect for their plans to open their own store.

Although his friend backed out, Polaski took the test. His first day on the job was Dec. 26, 1972. He was 24 and assigned to the station at Karl and Morse roads.

The transition from college athlete to firefighter was an easy one for Polaski. He had played baseball and football at Ohio State University and was part of the 1968 national championship football team.

“It’s not a very big leap from the locker room to the firehouse,” he said.

On a team, athletes rely on one another to do their jobs to win games. In firefighting, crews rely on one another to do their jobs so everyone goes home at the end of the shift.

They trust one another with their lives.

Polaski has been at Station 16 at Weber and McGuffy roads for 28 years.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because of the neighborhood we’re in; it’s one of the busiest stations in the city,” he said.

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