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WATCH NOW: Columbus man fulfills dream, becomes firefighter
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WATCH NOW: Columbus man fulfills dream, becomes firefighter

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Aaron Perez Fuerte was appointed as a firefighter, EMT and hazmat tech by the Columbus City Council earlier this week, a job he has wanted since his mother’s bad car accident more than a decade ago.

Perez Fuerte’s mother was on her way to work in 2006 when her car went off the road near Madison due to black ice. Her car rolled down the hill and though she was pretty hurt, she was able to climb up the hill to get help, he said.

“It was (tough). I was still a kid pretty much and not knowing what was going on with her,” Perez Fuerte said during a phone conversation Thursday after his first 24-hour shift. “I actually got to ride in the ambulance to Omaha with her and everything, so that was kind of an experience for me.”

The firefighters and medics were the ones to help her out, he added, and just seeing that pushed him toward wanting to do it.

The accident happened after Perez Fuerte moved from Mexico to Nebraska in 1998, when he was 7-years-old, and right before his family moved to Columbus later in 2006, he said.

Although the accident made him want to be a firefighter, he ended up getting accepted into the University of Nebraska – Omaha’s dental program.

“That’s what I thought I wanted to do,” he said. “So I was doing a lot of biology, a lot of science classes, but eventually they turned over to…construction, business classes and stuff. I never ended up graduating because I ended up working full-time for a company out there.”

Other jobs Perez Fuerte has held include being a welder, having traveled around to weld machinery in different states. He also worked for Northwestern Mutual.

Now he is a firefighter, a career he said he has been pushing for since he joined as a volunteer a couple years ago.

“That’s definitely when I knew I was serious about it,” said Perez Fuerte, who will be sworn in at a later meeting.

At this point, he still has more EMT classes to get a few more licensing. He already completed the firefighter academy, which required being a certified firefighter by the state of Nebraska and a Hazmat operator.

The Hazmat operator portion required another test by the state's fire marshal and was its own thing, he noted.

Perez Fuerte has been a volunteer firefighter for just over two years, Columbus Fire Chief Dan Miller said.

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“Because Aaron came through our volunteer academy and has already been a part of the department for a while, we anticipate that he will fit right in and be a very productive career firefighter,” Miller said.

Perez Fuerte also brings a benefit to the department with his bilingual ability, especially when communicating with patients, Miller said.

“Very nice, kind of soft-spoken, very respectful,” Miller added.

Over his two years as a volunteer, there have actually been other opportunities for a career position.

“Last year, there was a position that had opened up and I tried for that position, but because I was working a lot out of town … I was not prepared for that go-around so I felt like I had missed an opportunity,” he said. “But thankfully, in June, there was another chance at it and I was able to make it happen.”

Since he overcame that lost opportunity, Perez Fuerte said it felt really good to get the offer, knowing he had worked hard for the position.

Another challenge over the years has been balancing family with work. Perez Fuerte is married to Centro Hispano Executive Director Karina Perez, and the couple has three kids.

“We have two little girls and a little boy and our oldest is three and our youngest is one, so we had them right after each other,” Perez Fuerte said. “That’s definitely kept us busy the past few years.”

His family was really happy to hear he was able to get the job offer, he noted.

Perez Fuerte’s parents came to the City Council meeting along with his sister, his wife Karina, the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, and Karina’s sister.

“We weren’t able to (celebrate) because of it being a Monday night and everybody kind of has work the next day,” he said. “But I know my wife has kind of brought it up to me … a little dinner with our close family. Nothing big, but just kind of enjoy that special moment.”

Other Council happenings

Ward 4 Council Member John Lohr was presented with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District Outstanding Service Award.

*Mayor Jim Bulkley said the City keeps a running book of candidates when there are open positions on committees. Ward 3 Council Member Rich Jablonski said the positions are a good way to get involved in politics and residents should let Bulkley or City Administrator Tara Vasicek know if they have an interest in serving. 

The comments came after the Council planned to reappoint David Bell to Columbus Housing Authority but realized Bell was no longer a city resident. Bulkley said they hoped to have a new appointee by the next meeting.

Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at carolyn.komatsoulis@lee.net.

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