- Associated Press - Monday, January 4, 2016

WOOD RIVER, Neb. (AP) - The son of a fallen Nebraska firefighter is following in his father’s footsteps by joining the profession.

Wood River native Matt Woitalewicz received his badge as a firefighter in Lincoln in November. His father, Kenny, died after trying to save an elderly woman in a house fire in 2004. The elder Woitalewicz was a captain with Wood River’s volunteer fire department.

“I think it’s more following in his footsteps and honoring what he did,” Woitalewicz told the Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/1Z1lAQj).

Originally, Woitalewicz said, he wanted to go into radiologic technology but found it wasn’t a good fit. His goals changed when he did a ride along with the Grand Island Fire Department in high school.

He joined the Wood River department in 2013, and went to Southeast Community College in Lincoln to study fire protection technology. He graduated in September 2014 with an associate degree and interned with the Lincoln Fire and Rescue maintenance shop, then soon started the application process.

Woitalewicz got his badge after going through a 16-week recruit academy and a probationary period.

“It was like a giant weight lifted off my shoulders because I’d been waiting so long,” he said.

His mother, Melissa, pinned his badge during a ceremony. She said that when her son initially talked to her about becoming a firefighter, she wanted to make sure he wasn’t doing it only because of what happened to his father. She said it was clear her son made the right choice after talking with fire captains.

“He’s got it,” she said. “He’s got what it takes.”

Woitalewicz said he tries not to let worries creep in, but says that’s why firefighters train and prepare.

“It’s always in the back of my mind, of course, but I can’t let that affect my job performance,” he said.

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Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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