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Boulevard Heights VFD
My American Hero


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My American Hero
Kellie L. Bornman

This story was written for and about my father Donald William Bornman, My American Hero.

My American Hero would be a Firefighter.  A person who would sacrifice there own life to protect Man, Woman and Child. A person who will put others first and sometimes make that ultimate sacrifice and lose their own life. A person who unselfishly time after time jumps on that fire truck or ambulance day after day, hour after hour thinking of the citizens of the community that they serve. This to me is an American Hero. 

There are several million firefighters in this world. I have picked 1 who stands out most as "My American Hero".  That would have to be my father, Donald W. Bornman.  He will always be in my heart -- My American Hero.

I have had the chance to grow up in a fire department family and become part of the day-to-day task that firefighters face. There have been several calls that stick out in my mind. Some that would break your heart. And others that would make you laugh. In my 25 years in the fire department I have seen just about everything that would have made most women turn their heads.

My father was born January 28, 1928 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was the son of Lula and Harley W. Bornman, one of 8 children -- Norman, Elmer, Gene, Bud, Lucky, Ronnie and Sharon. My father's first venture was to join the Navy.  After 4 years of service, he transferred to the Air Force.

Later this would bring him to Maryland where he met and married my mother Louise Sorrells. He joined the fire department as a volunteer in 1960 at the age of 32 at Boulevard Heights Volunteer Fire Department. One year after my mother joined the Auxiliary of the same department.

My father quickly went "gungho" and took as many fire classes as he could.  But he did not stop there. By 1962 he became a Fire Instructor for the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. My father taught 22 successful Basic Firefighting classes. He had great pride in all of his students. He would put in all the extra time it would take to help each one of his students pass. My father was well liked throughout the county. Talking to several of my fathers former students, they all admired my father for his patience and the time he took to help each student get over the rough edges and become the best firefighter they can be. One student in mind said he got so much out of my dad's teaching that he took the class 2 times in a 10-year period. His reason was "to learn more."  

Due to his health, my father had to stop teaching. But that did not stop him from helping others who needed his help. Several times Dad went to Oxon Hill Fire Department and played Santa Claus and rode around on the fire trucks passing out candy canes to the children. When Boulevard Heights would have their own Christmas parties, my dad would play Santa Claus.

My father's role model was a man by the name of Larry Waltz who was a Fire Inspector for Prince George's County. Larry and my dad met while my dad was the Fire Marshall for Air Force Systems Command at Andrews Air Force Base. My dad retired from the Air Force in 1965 where he took a job as a Tax Assistor for Maryland. One day he ran into Larry again and he asked my dad to come work for him as a Fire Inspector and that started my dad's career in the "Paid" Fire Department for Prince Georges County. After 1 year as an Inspector he became the first Arson Investigator where he got the number 1501. He liked this job so well he spent all the time he could there. At one time my father was the only one and he had to run from places far north like Laurel, Beltsville and Bowie to the south side as far as Brandywine, Baden and Accokeek in one shift to cover all the calls.

I can remember my dad was at work and we had a kitchen fire in our house. Communications called my dad and told him to respond. Once he arrived my dad walks in goes to the closet grabs a coat walks into the kitchen grabs a piece of chicken off the table starts to eat and said "yep cooking was the cause." Chief Stommel turns to my dad and said " Don, make your self at home" Dad then turned and said ok as he sat on the couch and started to laugh "this is my home."

One call that stuck out in my father's mind was a  house fire in Kentland caused by a broken gas line in the house. The Officer In Charge of the call was Chief 33 Jeff Pittensburger. He and my father walked around the house and could not find the shut off value. Once the firefighters had the fire out he and the OIC walked into the house and just then the gas reignited and caused an explosion.  Both were burned and my father's eyes were burnt. It changed his life by changing his eyesight. He was lucky that he was given his sight back but not without problems that he carried for the rest of his life.

He also spoke about his first fire call as a volunteer firefighter with Boulevard Heights VFD. It was at a lumberyard and they were there for along time. He was the kind of guy who would take a person to the hospital in the ambulance and then go back to the station get his car and go pick them up when they were ready. I can remember as a child it was the middle of the night and the siren went off and my father got out of his warm bed and ran through the alley between our house and the firehouse. He fell in a hole and broke his leg. Even with a broken leg he still managed to get to the firehouse.  He did not make the engine, but he was there when they got back and then they took him to the hospital.

My father started several programs during his career as a Fire Investigator. He started the Bomb Squad, HazMat, ID Cards, and mock drills with Andrews Air Force Base.  He also started the first Fire Department Explore Post. Post 1619 was a fire and EMS post that was co-ed. This group of explorer scouts went to all the Boy Scout camp outs and ran the first aide tent. Dad made sure all of the kids in Post 1619 were trained in first aide and CPR. Most of the kids in the explorer post later joined volunteer fire departments.

As a volunteer my father was Fire Marshall, Secretary, Vice President, President, Vice President of the State Rescue Squad Association, Secretary to the Prince Georges County Fire Association, Secretary of the County Rescue Association, and Secretary to the Safety Council. On the Career side he was a Sergeant, Fire Inspector, Arson Investigator, Hazmat, and Safety Officer. He was a graduate from the Maryland State Police Academy, Prince George's Police Academy, Maryland State Fire Marshall, and And Deputy Sheriff.  Over the years my father has seen many changes in the Department. An all volunteer department to Volunteer and Career, and fire trucks going from all red to black green orange white and yellow.

My father shows many accolades in his entire volunteer and career life. Award of merit from President William Jefferson Clinton, Award of Merit from Governor of Maryland Parris Glending, Award of Merit from Prince George's Fire Chief Lemuel Roberts, Hall of Fame, Prince Georges County Volunteer Fire Association, Fire Fighter III, Journeymen, Award For EMT, Fireman of the Year Boulevard Heights and two Presidents awards from Boulevard Heights, Pop Summers Award for the Maryland State Fire Department, Rescue Squad of the Year and numerous top 10 ten fire and EMS awards.

When asked, my father stated that his hero would be his brother Bud. Fresh out of the Navy, Bud went to work for Nabisco and rose to become Vice President of Sales. When asked, my father stated "Heros are not born they are made; A hero never starts out to be a hero it just happens without thinking."

My father was very active at The Boulevard Heights Volunteer Fire Department untill his death on August 14, 2002. He did not ride anymore but he still put in his time when ever he was needed. My father is the start of three generations in the department.  My daughter Krystal and myself are still active members in the fire department.

To show their appreciation on October 19, 1996, the men and women of The Boulevard Heights Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department dedicated the new remolded firehouse to 3 men. One of those men is my father. Now you can see why I am very proud of my father and why he is "My American Hero."

I Love You "Dad" you are forever in my heart!