MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Three summers ago this month, a miraculous rescue happened at a Navy Blue Angels air show in Pensacola. Mobile Fire Rescue Captain Gary Holbein went to the aid of a drowning victim. Holbein took charge and with the help of a few other good Samaritans saved the man's life.
Captain Holbein was recognized by Mobile Fire-Rescue and the state of Alabama as their Fireman of the Year for his actions. He recently shared about how often he's involved in off-duty rescues, the love of his job and why he does it.
"You never know what during your day is going to happen and that's what I like about it. We may come here to the Melton Station and never get one ounce of sleep and that's just the good and bad. Firefighters want to be there when the bad stuff happens. We want to be there and we want to see if we can help," Holbein said.
Holbein is a 22-year veteran with Mobile Fire Rescue. His interest in becoming a firefighter started years ago due to his father's choice of friends.
"We grew up down on Dauphin Island Parkway. We had the local fire station down there, and my dad stopped in there pretty regularly to see some of his friends. And, so it kind of really made a big influence on me and, I decided it was what I really wanted to do," remembered Holbein.
Holbein's two brothers became firefighters. He felt something special happened when he joined.
"In rookie school I came out number one in the class, and I got to choose where I wanted to go. I chose to come actually to this station, the Melton Station on Lafayette Street. The rescue side of it and the firefighting side of it, I really enjoyed it. It was really tough, and it was physical and which I like that, and it was really demanding. This type of firefighting is part of something that shows we had a purpose, and I felt like I had a purpose. I felt like I needed to excel at it, and at any opportunity that they gave me," shares Holbein.
He excelled at the opportunities. Holbein became a driver, and then later, he got the job he believes he was meant to do.
"The technical rescue side of it, the Urban Search and Rescue Team, it's where the core of all the technical rescue comes out of. You have to work hard at it if you want to succeed in it. I knew that this is where I'm supposed to be. On scene, we can get in there and save somebody and get them out. That's part of the danger side of what we do, and we've signed on to do that. We see death pretty often. You're there for a reason. You're there to help that family, and you know they need the closure. Like at 3 Mile Creek the other day, it ended up being a body recovery, but that needed to be done. We had to have that for that family," reflects Holbein.
Holbein's job is always a part of his life.
"My wife was like I just can't believe it whenever we go somewhere, we were in the Smoky Mountains, and ended up being in a rescue for a guy with a heart attack up on top of the mountain, who we just happened to come upon, on the trail. It was an 8 to 10 hour ordeal to get him off the top of the mountain, but we never left him. We ended up going to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to take his wife to the hospital because they flew him out after we got him down the mountain," remembered Holbein.
A Blue Angels Pensacola air show turned into another life saving episode. A boater went overboard and was underwater for an unknown period time. Holbein quickly moved to help the drowning victim.
"I saw that they were pulling this gentleman out of the water, and they needed help from someone who knew what to do. If everything wouldn't have worked right then as four or five of us were helping him recover, then it would have been a bad outcome. I just happened to be one of them people to help," said Holbein.
Holbein was recognized for saving a life.
"I never thought that it would go to the level that it did. We've done other things in the past that we never, never got recognized for. I never thought that I would get Mobile Fire Rescue Firefighter of the Year or Firefighter of the Year for the State of Alabama. You don't do it to get recognized, we do it because somebody needed your help. I feel like this is what God chose me to do and I'm glad he did," stated Holbein.
Captain Holbein went into action that July day in Pensacola, because despite a crowd of folks near the victim, no one was responding to the cries of help from his family. Holbein said the man who was rescued is alive and doing well. Captain Holbein is also a part of Alabama's Urban Search and Rescue Team. After the deadly destructive April 2011 tornadoes in Tuscaloosa, he and the 100-member team arrived in Tuscaloosa that same day and worked for roughly 72-hours without sleep. Holbein spent 10-days there working rescue and recovery.
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