SAC Basic Fire Academy graduate, Michael Bilek, was awarded the United States Coast Guard Air Medal, the second highest non-combat military award, for his heroic efforts during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. At the time, he was an active member of the United States Coast Guard as an aviation survival technician and was assigned to a rescue helicopter squadron, which rescued 98 victims of the hurricane during September 2005. On numerous occasions over many hours, he was lowered to balconies and on rooftops to safely evacuate citizens stranded by the rising floodwater.
During the 2006 SAC fire academy graduation, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Marshall Branch presented the U.S. Air Medal to Michael for his noble actions. The medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, distinguished himself/ herself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight. Along with the Air Medal, recipients are given a certificate and a citation that explains what the honoree did to receive the award.
The U.S. Coast Guard citation given to Michael read: “He was immediately immersed in the chaos and confusion caused by Hurricane Katrina as he was hoisted to the ruins of an apartment building where he rescued three elderly women and two young girls. With no room left in the helicopter following the rescue, Petty Officer Bilek remained in the rescue basket, which dangled perilously in the open doorway of the helicopter, connected solely by his physical grip.”
Being completely humble about the honor, Michael explained that the opportunity to provide assistance is something that he feels good about because he likes to help others.
“The fact that I was able to contribute at the hurricane site doesn’t make me different,” expressed Michael. “It just means that I was able to help given my life’s circumstances.”
Transitioning from a member of the U.S. Coast Guard to being a member of the SAC Basic Fire Academy was a smooth road for Michael, as both job functions require wit and courage. He chose SAC, home of the largest and oldest fire technology program in California, to complete his training because he heard it was rated one of the best in the nation.
“Graduating from the SAC Fire Academy gives me an edge over others because of the college’s reputation of producing good quality professionals,” stated Michael. “SAC has a long tradition of educational excellence and being part of it makes me want to work that much harder.”
He will be returning to SAC to complete his associate’s degree in fire science next spring.
Currently, Michael is seeking full-time employment as a fire fighter and is going through testing with numerous. He also is working full-time at UCI Medical Center in the emergency room as an Emergency Medical Technician, doing what he does best – helping others.