Volunteer is a Firefighter's Best Friend

Like many kids, Dabasinskas wanted to be a fireman when he grew up. Unlike most kids, he never changed his mind.

by Karla Peterson, The San Diego Union-Tribune / November 17, 2016
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(TNS) - Why is Dylan Dabasinskas winning the outstanding organizational volunteer award at Wednesday’s National Philanthropy Day ceremony at Copley Symphony Hall? Don’t ask him. No, really. Please don’t.

“This award is very hard for him,” said Carlye Wund, director of development for Firefighter Aid, a San Diego nonprofit that gives financial support to firefighters and their families in times of need. “He has been saying, ‘I don’t really deserve this.’ He’s a giver, not a taker. It’s part of that fire family thing. It is in them to give back.”

An EMT with Mercy Ambulance and a reserve firefighter for San Diego County Fire Authority, the 24-year-old Dabasinskas spends his working life helping people. The same goes for his non-working life.

Over the past two years, the 4S Ranch resident has become Firefighter Aid’s go-to volunteer. He has raised thousands of dollars during the annual  9/11 Memorial Stair Climb fundraiser, which honors the first responders who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. He is also the person Wund and her colleagues call when they need someone to run errands, fix a computer, edit a video, organize a store room or just move furniture around.

Whether it is IT support, fundraising enthusiasm or muscle, the San Diego native always answers the call. It is how this firefighter rolls.

“That’s my mentality. I always want to do more stuff to feel helpful,” said Dabasinskas, who moved to Mission Viejo with his family while he was in elementary school and moved back to San Diego last year. “The people I’ve met here have become a family to me, and I’m willing to drop whatever I’m doing to help out.”

Like many kids, Dabasinskas wanted to be a fireman when he grew up. Unlike most kids, he never changed his mind.

At 16, he joined the Orange County Fire Authority’s Fire Exploring Program, which gives its young volunteers an inside view of the fire-service life. After graduating from Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, he worked at Mission Hospital as a transporter. He joined the San Diego County Fire Authority in 2012 and was hired as an EMT for Mercy Ambulance earlier this year.

“My dad was in law enforcement, so I grew up in a public-safety family,” Dabasinskas said during an interview at the Firefighter Aid offices in Mission Valley. “When people call 911, it is the worst day of their lives, and we get to help them. To be able to mitigate their fears is really special. That’s not something everyone gets to do.”

Firefighter Aid got on his giving-back radar two years ago, when he and his fiancée, Sierra Lawrence, joined a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb team. Their group raised $8,500, but they wanted to do more. The next year, their team raised $16,000 for Firefighter Aid. Now, Lawrence works there, and Dabasinskas puts in so much volunteer time it’s like he works there, too.

“Firefighters in general are amazing volunteers. They have this brotherhood, and they are very giving people. They have each other’s backs,” Wund said. “Dylan works all the time, but no matter how late he’s worked the night before, he comes in with coffee and a positive attitude. He’s such a good guy.”

In addition to raising money during the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, Dabasinskas now helps run the event. He corrals his fellow volunteers, moves equipment and organizes supplies, usually with the help of a meticulously organized, color-coded spreadsheet.

He also helps raise awareness for the stair climb by appearing at community events wearing a Smokey Bear costume and leading kids in “stop, drop and roll” exercises.

Last year, Dabasinskas also found time to join with the San Diego-based We Care Bears Project to equip San Diego County Fire Authority and Cal Fire trucks with donated teddy bears to give to kids who are sick, injured or just scared. And on Valentine’s Day, he joined with Firefighter Aid to deliver gift boxes to widows who had lost their firefighter husbands. He even helped one of the women set up her DVD player and computer.

So as the giving-back community celebrates National Philanthropy Day on Wednesday, Firefighter Aid and the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals will be celebrating Dylan Dabasinskas. The man of the hour might need a little more time to adjust to the idea.

“Having my name next to some of these large organizations like Susan G. Komen, that’s crazy,” he said of his fellow honorees, a list that also includes Linh Luong of Reality Changers and local philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. “I’m honored and thankful, but I can’t do any of this on my own. There are great board members who help out, and Sierra is a huge support network at home. I just do this because I enjoy helping people. Never in a million years did I want anything from this.”




karla.peterson@sduniontribune.com

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