Fate brings Adrian Banat to Ottawa Fire Department

Son of Polish immigrants finds new home, career in Ottawa

Ottawa firefighter and paramedic Adrian Banat, poses for a photo a photo at the Ottawa Fire Station off of State Street on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Ottawa.

One never knows exactly where in this world fate will drop us, as Adrian Banat can attest.

Banat, a 24-year-old firefighter with the Ottawa Fire Department, is the first member of his family to be born in the United States after it emigrated from Poland and came within one fateful decision made a dozen years ago of returning to that region of Europe, now very much torn by war.

“I very nearly didn’t end up here in Ottawa,” Banat said “I almost ended up back in Poland; that area of Europe is a little messy right now.”

Back in the day, it seems Banat’s family was living and working in the region 30 minutes away from the nearest big city, Rzeszow.

“You may think you’ve seen it all, but then you’re proven wrong on the next call you go out on.”

—  Adrian Banat, Ottawa firefighter

Eventually, his grandmother was granted a visa, so she packed her things and grabbed her sister, Banat’s dad and his uncle and came to the U.S. Banat’s father, an auto mechanic, went back and forth to Poland several times and on one of his trips, married his longtime sweetheart.

“Not long after, I came along,” Banat said, “and because of me, they decided to stay here.”

His life in Chicago was much like it would have been in Poland. His parents knew no English, spoke only Polish and the only people they knew were Polish relatives. Growing up, Banat watched only Polish cartoons.

“I was living here, but my life was still in Poland,” he said.

Not knowing English when he started kindergarten, Banat went into a program called English Language Learner. There, he became fluent enough to start taking regular English classes with classmates when he was in fourth grade.

It was around the time he was in eight grade that Banat’s parents finished building a house in Poland and considered moving back there to be closer to his mother’s family and the better part of his father’s.

However, they opted to stay in America and continued living in suburban Elmwood Park.

The next year, Banat enrolled at Maine West High School and ended up attending Oakton College, studying to be an engineer. He later became the first member of his family to graduate from college.

But because he had worked mostly with his hands in his younger years – plumbing, electrical work, construction, automotive – he decided “a desk job was not for me” and started searching for options involving more active careers, one that would make his parents proud.

“I had thought about being a firefighter back in high school, then later felt that maybe I would get into it around when I turned 30,” Banat said. “I just got to it sooner.

“Having no guidance on how to get into the fire service, I went to an online testing agency and took as many tests as I could to try to get hired, but I was going up against third- and fourth-generation firefighters who’d been pointing toward that since they were a little kid. I knew how to get my EMT [certification] and my paramedic, but other than that, I was blind.

“To be honest, I’d never heard of Ottawa before I applied, … but I took the test here, was offered the job here and here I am, a year and four months later.”

The greatest appeal to firefighting for Banat is the diversity of what he may do on any given shift, which also leads to the most difficult thing: adjusting to those scenarios.

“It may be medical calls, a few fire calls in between, and Ottawa is such a diverse area in that you have the interstate, the river, the state parks,” he said. “We get much more interesting and diverse calls than someone might get in a suburb in Cook County. … What you learn in school is very black and white, very textbook, but when you go on calls, you see the gray areas and you have to make important decisions on a whim.

“You may think you’ve seen it all, but then you’re proven wrong on the next call you go out on. … But it’s very rewarding. After your shift, you know it’s all worth it.”

Ottawa firefighter and paramedic Adrian Banat, inspects a ladder at the Ottawa Fire Station off of State Street on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in Ottawa.
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