COLUMBUS, Ohio – U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Ginikos, crew chief in the fire department at the 121st Air Refueling Wing, was presented with the 2018 Chief Albert Fitzpatrick Award for Air National Guard Firefighter of the Year on May 5 at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base.
“It really is an honor,” said Ginikos. “But I can’t take full credit for it. This award just shows that I’m doing what I’ve been trained to do. I’m hoping what I did embodies everything I’ve been taught over the years.”
Ginikos, a Westerville, Ohio, native, was chosen as the stand-out candidate from applicants nationwide.
“It’s a substantial accomplishment. To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never won it before,” said U.S Air Force Master Sgt. Joshua Gilman, the assistant chief of operations at the 121st fire department. “He went up against the best the nation had to offer. He is literally the cream of the crop.”
Enlisting in the Ohio Air National Guard almost eight years ago, Ginikos said it was only after he’d joined that he wanted to be a firefighter. He was lucky enough to get an open spot right out of basic military training.
Inspired by the sense of purpose he gained by joining the National Guard, Ginikos is in the process to join the Columbus Fire Department.
Ginikos was also nominated the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year for Civil Engineering at the 121st ARW for 2018. Ginikos is an active member of his community, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.
“I’m not just a firefighter these two days a month,” said Ginikos. “They want to see me giving back to the community on a daily basis, and that’s what I try to do. I always try to help with anything I can do.”
During the Westerville Fourth of July parade in 2018, Ginikos became a local hero when he saved a 2-year-old girl from choking to death. Ginikos humbly described the day with the tone of someone who wasn’t considering heroism or accolades, but as someone who was just doing his job.
“My wife and I were at the parade, and I noticed out of the corner of my eye, she was staring to her left. She grabbed my arm, and I saw a crowd. She didn’t have to say anything, I jumped up and ran over, seeing a bunch of people standing around a little kid. I asked the people what was going on, and I got down on the kid’s level. She had tears running down her face, but she wasn’t making any noise; no screaming, no breathing. The first person I saw said she’d been eating a Lifesaver and stopped breathing. I grabbed her and did ‘the Baby Heimlich’. I got the Lifesaver dislodged a little bit, and right as I did, she started crying and sucked it back in. After two and a half to three minutes of doing the Heimlich, I finally got it dislodged, and she started breathing and crying. Just as I got it dislodged, the Westerville Fire Department arrived and checked her out. She didn’t have to go to the hospital, but they said if it had gone on much longer she could have had brain damage.”
Ginikos was honored as a hero by the city of Westerville for saving the little girl’s life, but Ginikos continued in a matter-of-fact way.
“What I did was nothing anyone else here wouldn’t do,” Ginikos said. “Everybody here, if they were in the same shoes, would do the same thing. It’s in the firefighter's mentality. We’re here to help people. This award doesn’t come from one act that I did; I just try to embody the Core Values we were taught at basic training.”
“That full spectrum Airmen notion that we talk about, he does it,” said Gillman, Ginikos’ former direct supervisor at the 121st. “He really does it. The term ‘well-rounded’ implies that someone is good at some things, but not-so-good at other things. But Ginikos is well-rounded in that he does everything WELL. It’s pretty impressive. Some people have strengths and weaknesses, but Ginikos pretty much just has strengths.”
Gillman said that in addition to volunteering in his community, holding a full-time civilian career, fulfilling his drill duty at the 121st, that Ginikos also volunteers to go on any temporary duty assignment or deployment that he can.
Ginikos will officially accept his award for Firefighter of the Year in August of 2019, in Atlanta.