When David and Deanne Owsianiak ask each other, “How was your day today?” it takes on a little different meaning than most couples. The Owsianiaks, from the inner city of Chicago, have dedicated their lives to public service for the past 17-plus years—David as a firefighter/paramedic and Deanne as a police officer.
“I joke around with her,” David said. “But I always remember she is the one with the gun.”
The couple, married 25 years, recently attended training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), in Anniston, AL. The course they attended was called Technical Emergency Response Training (TERT) for CBRNE Incidents. The training focuses on incident management, mass casualty response and emergency response to a catastrophic natural disaster or terrorist act. Many CDP courses are multi-discipline, while others are specific to certain professions. CDP training for state, local and tribal responders is fully funded by FEMA.
“This was the first time we were able to attend training together,” David added. “What a great opportunity for us both. The training is top notch—everyone [in response] should take advantage. I will encourage others, even the single people, to try the CDP.”
Born and raised in the city of Chicago, the two met in the mid 1980s. David was a truck driver, while Deanne was working on her college degree. David had always wanted to be a firefighter, but it wasn’t until the late 80s that trucking started to seem less exciting and firefighting was calling his name.
“The truck driving industry took us both to Florida and that’s where I started my fire fighting career,” said David. “And after Deanne finished her first two years of college, she decided to try law enforcement.”
Serving in Daytona Beach, FL, as a firefighter/EMT for five years, the couple missed their hometown of Chicago. In 1994 they packed up and moved home. After successfully completing entrance exams for both fire and police, they have been wearing Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department uniforms ever since.
David has been with the Chicago Fire Department for 15 years and Deanne has served as a police officer for 17. Ask the two about the difficulties of balancing marriage with demanding jobs, long shifts and exhausting assignments, they look at each other and smile.
“We make it work,” Deanne said.
Deanne has risen to the rank of sergeant and now supervises the mass transit systems that are at the nucleus of her city’s public transportation. This assignment has made CDP training more meaningful she said.
“This training is perfect,” Deanne added. “Chicago’s public transportation is a major target for terrorism and even accidents come in many forms that result in mass casualties. The CDP week provided me more threat awareness and gave a little extra confidence to improve our response plans. I’ll be sharing this with the officers I supervise and encouraging others to get the training.”
“This training was in line with what I do as a firefighter,” David said. “I’m assigned to Squad 5, which is a special operations unit, and we are the busiest fire company in the city. What I enjoyed most was the nerve agent training. I have never experienced working in an environment with toxic agents. That experience was great, and I feel more prepared and confident in my gear.”
One of the most unique elements of CDP training is the Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological (COBRA) Training Facility. COBRA is the nation’s only toxic chemical training facility for civilian emergency responders. Exercises at the COBRA feature training in a true toxic environment using chemical agents.
Although the Owsianiaks’ careers have taken separate paths, every now and then their shifts coincide allowing for the occasional lunch date or wave as they pass on the street. Both speak passionately about the services they have joined and the jobs they perform. “We’re committed to serving our city,” they both said.