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128th ARW Boom Operator goes above and beyond the call of duty

Senior Master Sgt. Mark Lipinski, an instructor boom operator with the 128th Air Refueling Wing, received the Milwaukee Fire Department’s Class B award and the American Legion’s William Schaefer award on Nov. 5, 2008, at the Renaissance Plaza Milwaukee, Wisconsin for saving the life of a two-year-old child.  Senior Master Sgt. Mark Lipinski is pictured with his Milwaukee Fire Departments crew. (Air Force Photo By: MSgt Todd Peck)

Senior Master Sgt. Mark Lipinski, an instructor boom operator with the 128th Air Refueling Wing, received the Milwaukee Fire Department’s Class B award and the American Legion’s William Schaefer award on Nov. 5, 2008, at the Renaissance Plaza Milwaukee, Wisconsin for saving the life of a two-year-old child. Senior Master Sgt. Mark Lipinski is pictured with his Milwaukee Fire Departments crew. (Air Force Photo By: MSgt Todd Peck)

Milwaukee, WI -- He heard a young voice scream from inside the smoke-filled room. Acting quickly, he pulled his mask on and called out for the trapped person. There was no response. 

His mind made up, he moved into the bed room. Debris cluttered the floor, and smoke effectively made him blind. Using touch alone, he made his way forward. 

He held his breath. A whimper came from nearby. There was a closet, and, beside it, a dresser. Sheltered from the fire, tucked behind the dresser, was a young girl. 

Senior Master Sgt. Mark Lipinski, an instructor boom operator from the 128th Air Refueling Wing here, received two awards on Nov. 5, 2008, at the Renaissance Plaza here for saving the life of a two-year-old child. 

"I had the fortune to be in the right place at the right time," Lipinski said in reference as to why he received the awards. 

The Milwaukee Fire Department's Class B award was given to Lipinski due to the danger he placed himself in while saving a life. There are three classes of MFD awards, and the Class B is given to individual firefighters who place themselves in harm' s way to go above and beyond the call of duty. 

The American Legion's William Schaefer award is given annually to a Milwaukee firefighter based on that individual's actions while on duty, said Robert Singer, the post commander for American Legion Post 426. Three legionaries review the nominees and, based on internal criteria, select the most deserving firefighter. 

The fire occurred on May 24, 2008, and was a short distance from the firehouse where Lipinski is stationed, he said. Lipinski's duty was to enter the apartment building and search for survivors. He said someone outside the burning building had mentioned a trapped child on the second floor, and he focused his efforts on locating and saving the child. 

Smoke, debris and heat were obstacles Lipinski had to overcome during his search and rescue. His breathing mask made too much noise for him to hear the subtle sounds of someone trapped, so he said he had to hold his breath when he stopped to listen. 

Upon finding the child, Lipinski said he did his best to prevent any further injury to her and immediately made his way outside. 

Paramedic units had not arrived at the fire' s location yet, so Lipinski said he left the two-year-old child in another fireman's care and returned to the building to search for other survivors. The rescued child was the only trapped survivor. 

"There are people who just have a badge, and there are firefighters," said Master Sgt. Jeff Venus, the assistant chief of operations for the 128th ARW Fire Department. "Mark Lipinski is a firefighter." 

Lipinski has been a member of the Wisconsin Air National Guard for 30 years, and has been with the Milwaukee Fire Department for 25 years. 

His job with the 128th ARW is to operate the boom--the rigid, extendable tube that transfers fuel to a second aircraft--on Air Force KC-135R refueling aircraft. 

Lipinski was doing his job on that day in May. It was a job he had trained for. He acted as only a professional can, and he chose to do what was necessary to save a life. 

It just so happens that his actions proved the type of character he possesses, and they showed a city that heroes still exist.