Derby native bestowed with firefighting honor

By David Dinell
Derby Informer – May 14, 2015

derby fire 5142015

Like every firefighter, Lt. Rob Kanaga has undergone a lot of training for his job, including specialized instruction in search and rescue techniques. Now, 16 years into his career with the Wichita Fire Department, he continues to train, working on his professional techniques. And while it’s not every day that an alarm calls for something like a rescue in a blaze, when it does, that’s exactly when the work and effort pays off.

Such was the case when Kanaga, a 42-year-old Derby resident, was sent to an alarm early on the afternoon of March 15 to the 1300 block of West Walker in Wichita.

Kanaga knew there was a sizable fire underway.

“We were able to see a large column of heavy black smoke and fire from a couple of blocks away,” he said.

On scene, Kanaga, who was with the initial responders from Station 4’s A shift, found a involved second-floor apartment fire. Even more serious, there was a report of a person trapped in the inferno. Kanaga, on the front line of the fire, went in to search for the person. Moving through heavy smoke and oppressive heat, he was able to find the person, who was almost unconscious. Despite the conditions, including low visibility, he was able to single-handedly move the victim out of danger.

The building was heavily damaged, but no life was lost as the female victim, as well as other victims, were transported to the hospital for treatment and able to recover from their wounds.

For his life-saving efforts at the fire, Kanaga was selected as the Wichita Area Insurance Professionals 2015 Firefighter of the Year recipient. He will formally receive the award during a May 21 ceremony.

Kanaga said he is humbled by the award. “It’s a huge honor,” he said.

While he gets a major accolade, Kanaga is quick to create others. “It’s not something I did by myself,” he said.

Because of the size and nature of the blaze, a second alarm was sounded and about 50 firefighters were at the scene.

“A lot of other people were doing their jobs that allowed me to do the rescue that day,” Kanaga said.

Kanaga has been to other rescues before, but this was his first solo one. It all comes down the training, he said.

“You never know what situation you’re going to be in when you show up,” he said. “You have to be ready for all of it as every call is different, but we do enough training everything becomes second nature,” he said.

Training a key factor

As the first responding company, Kanaga’s unit handled the fire tactical assignment, deploying and directing resources and making the initial attack on the blaze. It’s all part of the department’s standard operating procedures, and following them makes the operation succeed, he said.

As far as being scared about the situation, well, it’s just not something to dwell on.

“You just don’t think about it,” he said. “I know it sounds mundane, but you train long enough so it becomes a job.”

But make no mistake, it wasn’t just an average call for Kanaga. His adrenaline was flowing and he was careful to make sure he was not in harm’s way. “There’s a lot of situation awareness,” he said.

That’s also where teamwork comes in, he said, where others are looking out for you and ready to help you if it’s needed.

A 1991 graduate of Derby High School, Kanaga also graduated from Wichita State University and has taken and completed numerous training and certification courses.

In bestowing the award, the Wichita Area Insurance Professionals said: “For his heroic action in connection with a fire in a multi-story occupied building, Lt. Kanaga distinguished himself and serves as an inspiration to every member of the fire department.”

It wasn’t just the insurance professionals taking note – so did friends, family, co-workers and the general public. The Wichita Fire Department’s Facebook page was filled with comments on Kagana’s achievement.

Among them was Dan Clark, who wrote: “Well deserved. Proud to have Rob as my lieutenant.”

Added Chic Fernandez: “So while I’m getting fatter and happy on my birthday, Kanaga is risking his own life to save others. That’s a great perspective on what real heroes do, not the people who get paid millions to play a sport or sing a song. I’m proud to say I know you.”

So popular was Kanaga’s posting, that he got 527 “likes” and it was shared 49 times, prompting his department to comment on the situation.

“Rob Kanaga, this post about you destroyed our page notifications,” went the notice. “We had to change the settings to accommodate the ‘likes’ and comments. Outstanding job. Our community is lucky to have you.”

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