Tags: Featured Feature story, Geneva Linn
August 06, 2013 | 01:42 PMThe day before the Town of Linn Fire and EMS Department conducted a practice burn at a house in The Birches, Jeff "Auggie" Wojcik and his wife, Sara, welcomed their second son, Jacob, into the world.
But that didn't stop the 30-year-old Auggie from donning his firefighting gear to run practice drills and light a building on fire.
"I get a certain something when I enter a burning house," he said. "So, my cigar for having a newborn baby was burning a house down. Not many people can say that."
Auggie — his nickname taken from a character in Hanna-Barbera cartoons from the late 1950s/early 1960s — has two families. There are those he's connected to by blood and marriage, then there are those he works with in the Linn fire and EMS department.
Maybe it's because they've spent so much time together, been through hell and back with each other, or they share a common desire to serve the community and face danger. Whatever the case may be, it's common to hear firefighters refer to those in their department as "family."
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Linn's department is no exception.
"The biggest thing for us is the sense of community," said Second Assistant Chief Dan Pitt. "It's ingrained in us, it's ingrained in our families — whether they like it or not."
Auggie more than liked it his whole life. He's a third-generation firefighter, currently Linn's engine captain, training officer and dive coordinator.
His grandfather, Joseph Rogge, was a firefighter in the town of Linn and village of Fontana departments. His dad, Jeff Wojcik, was on the Fontana department for 10 years "then he had us five kids," Auggie said, referring to himself and his siblings.
Auggie said he grew up on the stories and always loved visits to the fire house. He joined the Linn department when he was 18. Although his dad "left it open," it appears there's no way Auggie could escape a firefighter's life.
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"I was born in it, I grew up in it, and I'll probably die in it," he said.
Old days, new tech
Back when Rogge became a firefighter, it was called the Zenda Fire Department. He served on the Zenda and Fontana departments for a total of about 20 years, Auggie said.
"When my grandfather first got on, they had just gotten their first engine," he said.
Rogge was also a police officer in Fontana.
So why firefighting?
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"I think he was getting paid $1 a day to be a cop," Auggie said.
As for his dad, Auggie said Fontana only had a fire engine and an equipment truck when Jeff Wojcik joined.
Now, fire departments employ a variety of tools and vehicles. Linn, for example, doesn't just have trucks. There's a vehicle with tank-like treads used to help fight fires on terrains where there are no roads, commonly called a "grass truck," and watercraft.
Auggie and Pitt said they talked about staging a "bucket brigade" — literally, a line of people passing buckets of water down to the person closest to a blaze — during the Birches practice burn. Auggie said it was too hot to safely pull that off.
This prompted a desire to compare firefighting methods and tools then and now.
Auggie said in the days of his dad and grandfather, departments typically worked together because equipment was scarcer.
"Now, fire departments work together, not because of equipment, but manpower," he said.
Today's fire department, not just in a town like Linn but throughout the county, often struggle to find volunteers. Although Auggie works two full-time jobs, "I respond to day calls," he said. "I'm always around."
Today's firefighters also have access to technology that wasn't available to Auggie's grandfather or dad. Now, iPads and heat imaging cameras are commonly used tools.
In fact, several of those stories Auggie recalled hearing from his dad and grandfather didn't always have happy endings.
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"I remember a lot of stories where they didn't have extrication tools and they would be trying to get people out of a car and they couldn't," he said. "They'd watch people burn up because of it."
"Back in the day, you used what you had," Pitt said. "Now, we have more tools."
Which has possibly been the biggest challenge for Auggie, a self-described, hands-on worker who likely won't take a job sitting behind a desk anytime soon. He said with safety — for firefighters and fire victims — such a strong emphasis, there is much more certification and educational requirements impressed on firefighters than there were in the days of his dad and grandfather.
"You've got to change with technology," he said. "It's to improve safety. But, I mean, a lot of it has changed, because of technology."
But one thing — perhaps the main thing, in terms of firefighting — remains.
"When you go into a burning building, it's pretty much the same," Auggie said.
Although you won't see kids running around the fire station so much these days, what with the amount of equipment in them, there's still that sense of community Pitt mentioned.
In fact, it wasn't just Auggie meeting with the Regional News for an interview. It was him, Pitt and several other members of the department.
As Auggie would answer questions, his fellow department members would occasionally take loving pot-shots at him.
"Auggie, he cares so much about the department itself — I mean, yeah, he gets his jollies out of being there (at the practice burn) — he has a strong sense of responsibility to the department," Pitt said.
Auggie even has a tattoo of the department emblem over his right bicep. In the tattoo are the initials "JW," which stand for not just his and his father's names, but also that of Auggie's 2-year-old son, Jeffrey.
Auggie said people often say his dad, his son and himself all look alike. He shared a picture of himself as a toddler, taken in the mid 1980s, wearing his dad's fire helmet.
But will the youngest Jeff Wojcik follow suit?
Auggie shared another photo of himself with Jeffrey.
The boy is wearing a red plastic fire helmet.
"He always wears his little red plastic helmet every day, and his little rubber fire boots, too," Auggie said. "They're too big for him, of course, but he still has to wear them, flopping around the house."