Shortly after reporting for duty at Littleton Fire Station 1 on April 28. 1969, Captain John Cernich was participating in a daily mandatory physical fitness program. One of the requirements was the completion of a one mile run is less than eight minutes. As he finished the run, he collapsed and died immediately from a heart attack.
Captain Cernich was born in Albia, Iowa, on March 17, 1918. He was the fifth of nine children born to his parents who immigrated to the US from Croatia in the early 1900s. He was raised in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado and graduated from Lafayette (CO) High School. Shortly after World War II began, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, earned his pilot’s wings and became a flight training instructor.
On June 10, 1943, he married Mary Eileen Kaden. Together they had eight children; John Jr., Robert, Carol, Thomas, Mary, Mark, Paul and Judy. After his discharge from the Air Corps, he settled his family in Littleton, Colorado where he spent a number of years working as a carpenter and sanding floors.
On October 3, 1960, he was hired by the Littleton Fire Department as a firefighter and on January 13, 1967, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. He became one of the most notable department progressives, advocating formal education for firefighters and encouraging several new and innovative technical changes which have had significant impact upon the fire service as a whole.
1. Captain Cernich had a role in the development of the Associate Degree in Fire Science Technology Program at the Denver Community College.
2. He was responsible for five inch hose being brought into Littleton – the first in the country. This high volume hose is now used in many cities nationwide.
3. He was a staunch advocate of physical conditioning for firefighters.
4. He adamantly and consistently pressed for change in order to make the fire service more progressive and responsive to community needs.
5. Captain Cernich’s death served as a stimulus for some department members to obtain more advanced training in the emergency medical care field. As a result, On July 7, 1974, Littleton Fire Department formally instituted the first paramedic service in Colorado.
In the summer of 1978, the father of a 16 year old girl suffered a cardiac arrest. She had recently completed a CPR training class conducted at her high school by Littleton Fire Department paramedics. She immediately began CPR and continued without stopping until the arrival of LFD paramedics. They successfully resuscitated her father who was discharged from the hospital a few days later with no impairment.
To honor her for her quick actions, the Fire Department initiated a Memorial Award named in honor of Captain Cernich and presented it to her at a meeting of the City Council. Since then the John P. Cernich, Sr. Memorial Award has been presented to more than 60 citizens whose actions directly contributed to a lifesaving effort.