Rarely do most of us meet someone who has braved a burning building to save a life, but Waunakee Rotarians did at their Feb. 6 meeting.
Gregory Lee Renz, author of “Beneath the Flames,” spoke to the club then about his book and one of the most dramatic points in his career as a Milwaukee firefighter.
Greg retired 11 years ago with many stories from his years of fighting fires in the inner city. He met many colorful characters and had stories to tell, so he decided to write a book. For 10 years he participated in writing workshops and worked with writing coaches and then his novel was born.
He pitched it to several agents and publishers in New York, and one agent offered to sign him on but had a vastly different vision for the book.
Greg said the book had been through different editors and he was cautioned against signing a contract. A writing coach referred him to a publisher in Milwaukee instead. Reviews  were positive, even the Kirkus review, he said. And readers on Amazon also gave the work positive feedback.
“Beneath the Flames” also received an International Book Award. But Greg said the best feedback he gets is from other firefighters who have read it and have realized they also are dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome and need to talk to others about it.
Greg said when a person dials 911, they may be experiencing the worst day  of their life – losing a child or a spouse. But firefighters can respond to four or five such calls in a day.
Greg told a story from his own career. In 2004, he was Captain of Engine 24 in Milwaukee. At 2:30 a.m., a call of a fire on North 67th street came in. The crew flew out with sleet pelting down on them.
Halfway to the house, dispatch announced multiple reports of the fire and two children trapped in a basement.
Engine 24 would be the first on the scene and would have make split-second decisions about how to save the kids and fight the fire.
Greg said after several years with the department, adrenaline had caused him to focus more slowly than it had as a younger firefighter. He thought about getting into the basement where the smoke would rise as does thought a chimney.
Smoke filled the entire street when they arrived, making the house difficult to find until a woman approached the fire truck and directed them.
Greg said he found the back door and the basement, and called down the stairs but heard nothing. He thought when he went down, he would find boys at the foot, but did not. He swept across the floor and before he got to the back wall, he found a bed and eventually found a boy’s body limp and lifeless.
Greg brought the body up to fellow firefighters then returned and retrieved a second body before doing a full search of the basement.
After the smoke cleared and the fire was out, Greg left the home expecting to find two yellow bundles covered in plastic sheets with the medical examiner present and families wailing.
“I was thinking about my own kids by this time,” he said.
But no one was outside. The chief came running to him and informed him that both boys had been resuscitated, were brought to the hospital, and were conscious.
“I can’t imagine what it feels like to catch the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl, but I can’t imagine it feels any better than this,” Greg said.
Two weeks later, just before Christmas as the firefighters were having lunch at the station, the mother came in with the two boys. The oldest, age 8, looked at Greg and said, “Thank you for saving my life.”
The boy nudged his brother, age 4, who then looked up at Greg and nodded. Teary eyed, Greg nodded back.
Other News:
-The club elected Ross Mauer to the president elect position and Ann Becker and Erick Plumb to the board of directors.  
-The club recognized Sandy Taylor of Waunakee Furniture for her generous donation to the Rotary Lights.
Guests: Kristen Muranyi and Sandy Taylor, guests of the club.

Visiting Rotarians: Greg Renz, Lake Mills (speaker).
Birthdays: None.
Anniversaries: None.
Programs: Feb. 13, Club Assembly; Feb. 20, David Hogg, Monarch butterflies; Feb. 27, Todd Schmidt, state of the village.
Greeters: Feb. 13, David May and Mark McFarland; Feb. 20, Gordon Meicher and Dan Miller; Feb. 27, Ed Niebuhr and George Ohlendorf.