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Burning Desire

3/1/2004

During the week, Chuck Jankowski fights fires and saves lives as a member of a Houston-area fire department. On the weekends, his occupation is turfing steers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

Jankowski, 43, has earned a spot at the 18th annual Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Pocatello, Idaho (March 17-20) thanks to a terrific season in the Texas Circuit.

The cowboy from Simonton, Texas (30 miles west of Houston), won $20,693 in 2003, his best campaign as a professional. It'll be his second DNCFR, with the first coming in 1998.

The DNCFR is like the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for weekend warrior types, whose jobs do not allow them to compete on a full-time basis. This year's championship event inside Holt Arena on the campus of Idaho State University boasts prize money of more than $400,000. The top two contestants in each event from the PRCA's 12 circuits qualified for this prestigious contest.

Jankowski, who has 14 Texas Circuit Finals berths under his belt, has been a firefighter for 11 years and has seen just about everything.

"We made a save on a guy who was asleep in bed with a cigarette and caught the place on fire," said Jankowski, who will be joined by Keith Webster out of the Texas Circuit at the DNCFR. "Our crew went in, got the guy out, revived him and the guy made it."

Jankowski, who has won $165,674 in his rodeo career, works on the more affluent side of Houston.

"We see guys who drive fancy Mustangs, racing, going 100, split their heads open, stuff like that," Jankowski said.

Handling calls that involve children, however, are the toughest, he said.

"I have a 4-year-old girl and when you see kids who get burned or killed in a car accident, it just rips you apart," Jankowski said. "Then you have burn victims who when you grab them their skin comes off."

Jankowski is one of a handful of weekend cowboys who are firefighters in Texas.

Craig Cavaness (Brenham, Texas) tackles the worst fires and emergencies in Houston's poor side of town. Michael Dickey (Bryan, Texas) responds to emergencies at the Houston Intercontinental Airport, while Kitt Woody (Cleburne, Texas) is a firefighter for the Arlington Fire Department.

Like Jankowski, Cavaness, Dickey and Woody are bulldoggers and have each enjoyed success in the arena. They are all good friends and some times traveling partners.

"I love rodeo and I always have," Dickey said. "Because of my circumstances in my life, I've never been able to just pick up and go rodeo, but this is the next best thing for me."

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