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Sandy Journal

Sandy resident given Global Citizen Award

May 08, 2023 01:05PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

Ukrainian firefighters pose with former Sandy Fire Chief Bruce Cline during the Firefighter Challenge last October. (Photo courtesy Oksana Chehmestrenko)

Every year, Sandy City recognizes outstanding residents and businesses in a variety of categories. One Sandy resident performed such a generous act in 2022 that a new One Sandy Awards category was made just for him: the Global Citizen Award.

A Sandy City Council meeting in October was just about to wrap up when Fire Chief Bruce Cline jumped up to share one last item.

“I got a call today from a Ukrainian group, and they are sending six firefighters here for the combat challenge and they’re asking for some help to find a place for them to stay,” Cline said. “So, if you know of anything or have connections will you let me know? I think that’s pretty cool that they’re leaving their war-torn country to come to Utah to compete in this challenge.”

David Jack, a regular attendee of council meetings, approached Cline and said he could find plenty of families to help. Several of his neighbors did offer to house the athletes, but the group wanted to stay together. So the six athletes all stayed at Jack’s home for 10 days.

“Mr. Jack and his family were so hospitable when the firefighters came from Ukraine and didn’t have housing secured,” said Mayor Monica Zoltanski when she named the awardees at a council meeting on March 28. “He put them up for 10 days and took care of their every need. Just somebody here, sitting in the audience on a Tuesday night. And he not only changed the experience for the athletes, but showed the best of Sandy and touched so many of us who saw his generosity that acts as a beacon of citizenship for so many others.” 

The Firefighter Challenge is a week-long, skills-based course and competition sponsored by the First Responder Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. The competition simulates essential skills of firefighting, including hoisting a fire hose, simulating forcible entry and victim rescue, and climbing a five-story tower in full gear. Fourteen challenges took place across the country in 2022, culminating with the World Challenge in Sandy from Oct. 10-15.

“I think they’re athletes because they want to be strong firefighters,” Jack said. “They try to do everything they can to make their bodies as strong as possible to help others.”

What did Jack’s family think about hosting six strangers?

“Well, it was a little surprising,” Jack said with a laugh. “I had my two sons that were here at that time, 23 and 29 years of age, and one of them gave up his bedroom for one of the Ukrainians. And they got to know the Ukrainians, too. They had some great talks.”

Only two of the athletes spoke English, so the others used their cell phones to translate.

 “I think it was very positive for our family because these are very strong people. Just very, very strong—mentally as well as physically—and they gave us very useful information on what’s happening in the rest of the world and what’s happening in Ukraine.”

The day of the competition, the athletes learned about a scary situation at home.  

“We were just loading all their materials into the suburban, and they all had their cell phones out in front of them and I looked around and thought, well this is quite strange,” Jack said. “And so I went over to the ones that spoke English and said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘Look, this is our house, and these are the missiles that are coming in on our house. We’re just hoping that our families don’t get destroyed.’ And that was the morning that the contest started. Oh, that was a tough one.” 

As a team, the Ukrainians were able to put their fears aside and compete to their best abilities. On the last day of the competition, they were named World Champions in the Hybrid Relay Category. Individually, Aleksandr Baran won second place in one of the challenges and Oksana Chehmestrenko placed third overall in the women’s division. 

“They were rooting for each other firefighter that was against them,” Jack said. “Of course they wanted to win, but they were just very respectful to each other and the other country members that were there, too.”

Jack has stayed in touch with many of the Ukrainians, who for now are safe and doing well, in spite of the ongoing conflict. Volodymyr Dudka sent Jack an email after seeing a video about the Global Citizen Award on YouTube. 

“I congratulate your entire family,” wrote Dudka. “Because it seems to me that David is capable of great things only because he has so much support, respect and love that you give him! You (his family) are both a ‘trailer’ and a ‘locomotive’ and a ‘guiding star’ for him.” 

Jack was just one of the 13 individuals and businesses honored with a One Sandy Award in 2023. Video interviews of all the recipients can be found on Sandy City’s website here:

“Everybody grows up in their own country in a certain different way that we need to understand,” Jack said in the video made to describe his award. “And the more we understand it the better off we’re going to be as a world.”

“I thank fate for bringing me together with you,” Dudka wrote. “This is one of the most valuable events in my life. Thank you for accepting us, helping us, allowing us to see a little of your life. This experience is incredible. P.S. We stand! We are fighting! Thank you for supporting us in the fight for our freedom!” λ