Meet Tony Warejcka

MRI Technologist, Sanford USD Medical Center

The fire service has been a part of Tony Warejcka’s life since he was growing up in Platte, South Dakota. Before 911 was established as the emergency code in the U.S., he remembers an old red phone in his parents’ bedroom.

“If I ever heard that ring as a kid, I knew I better not answer it because it was an actual fire call. That was a big thing,” Tony says. “Because whoever answered was responsible for flipping a switch and setting off the air horns in town, which were the fire alarm back in the day.”

Tony’s dad was the fire chief of the Platte Volunteer Fire Department, which meant that on the weekends Tony spent a lot of time down at the fire station. Tony got to help wash trucks and witness a lot of the day-to-day operations of the department.

Those immersive experiences as a kid led Tony to want to be a firefighter himself. He settled down in a community that was small enough to have a volunteer fire department he could be a part of.

“Volunteerism is something that my family always did. It was kind of bred into me, that you try and help others when they’re in a time of need,” Tony says. “And being a part of the fire service is one of the ways I can do that.”

Tony joined the Canton Volunteer Fire Department in October 1999, and he’s now the first assistant chief, a position that keeps him busy with training, fundraising, budgeting and safety decisions for the 24-member department.

“When I was younger, I was driving and operating the trucks and going into the buildings and spraying water on the fire. Now that I’m older, grown into the department, I have more of a leadership role,” Tony explains.

Instead of red phones, firefighters now carry pagers and get fire calls through their cell phones. On a volunteer department, any firefighter who is in town and available can respond when calls go out.

Whether they’re responding to a car accident or a fire in a cornfield, there’s a lot of teamwork that goes into getting a job done.

“A lot of the good memories are saving the close calls and the camaraderie on the department, how you get to know your fellow firefighters and community members too.”

In Canton, the department can be quiet for days and then a memorable call will go out like it did in early October, when several fire departments and farmers came together to contain a grass fire that spread across separate fields.

“The unity was pretty amazing, and it happened fast,” Tony explains. “The wind was blowing 40 miles an hour, and as we were responding to the original call we got dispatched to another spot where the fire had jumped over a mile and started in a whole other field.”

But whether he’s imaging a patient or facing flames, Tony stays calm under pressure. It’s a trait he likely picked up in a firehouse.

“It’s always been about supporting the community and trying to help people, but let’s face it, putting water on a hot fire is kind of fun. It’s an adrenaline rush.”