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Dustin Luebke: Prepared To Fight

April 25, 2014, 10:05 PM by Brady Mallory

Dustin Luebke: Prepared To Fight

The men and women of Sioux Falls Fire Rescue put their lives on the line every day to save others.

Fire Fighter Dustin Luebke can put on all of his gear in about a minute. 

"You're helping people non-stop," Luebke said.

As a member of Sioux Falls Fire Rescue's Urban Search and Rescue team, Luebke always has to keep going.

"You jump in your boots.  You pull your bunker gear on, and hop in the truck," Luebke said.

Every day, when it is a matter of life and death, he follows a plan.

"You kind of just take it head-on.  With what we're trained to do, you just go in there.  You have your plan, and if something comes up, you just adapt and overcome," Luebke said.

That is what training has taught the 30-year-old firefighter.  It is how he tackles towering flames.  It is what got him through last year's eleven-hour water search for two people who drowned at Falls Park.  Finally, it is how he is prepared to fight for his own life.

"This is basically what hooks up to the IV line, and that's how the chemo is delivered through the (portacath)" Luebke said, pointing to the bump on his chest, showing where the device is located. 

When he is sitting in the beige leather chair at the Sanford Cancer Center, you will see him in his boots, badge, or helmet.  As his wife, Amanda, holds his hand, you can tell different kind of armor protects him as he battles stage 2b Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"I had swollen lymph nodes in my neck and then I was having night sweats.  The fatigue.  The lower backache.  Just basically being tired all the time, which is not normal for me," Luebke said.

Luebke had a biopsy, and surgery to remove the suspect lymph node.  After a couple of rounds of chemo, the young father still holds on to a full head of blond hair.  He said that will not be the case for much longer, and he has enlisted his two daughters -- five-year-old Natalie, and 2-year-old Gretchen -- to shave his head.  It is a way to make cancer less scary for the little girls.  Though his wife and children are by his side, most of his relatives are more than three hours away in Plainview, Minnesota.  Not to worry.  His other family, his fellow firefighters, are right there with him.

His crew has added a new element to their gear. You will see a purple ribbon, bearing Luebke's initials on their helmets. Even the City Fire Chief wears one proudly.

"We really appreciate that. You can't say enough about how blessed we are to have those people to lean on," Luebke said.

"We have a brother and sisterhood within this organization, and when we have members that are facing challenges.  We really rally together," Capt. Todd Lowe said.

However, if you think Luebke is just going to sit and watch from the sidelines, think again. On the days he feels well enough, he will continue to work in between rounds of chemo. You could say that he tailored his treatments around his job.

"Here's where my airpack goes - right here," Luebke said, pointing to the straps on his shoulders. He requested his doctor put the port in the middle of his chest, rather than in the upper part of his chest near his armpit. 

"So now it's not in the way of my airpack straps," Luebke said. "It kind of threw the surgeon for a loop. He's like, 'Well, that's the first time I've heard someone fighting fire while going through chemo.' "I said, 'Well, if I could have it there, it'd be great.'"

His dedication to the job is no surprise to those working alongside him.

"A lot of other firefighters look up to Dustin," Lowe said.

Not just for his courage facing cancer, but a proven track record of bravery and hard work in the field. Luebke will be the first to deny being dubbed a hero. He will tell you he is just a working man doing a job he loves.

"I'm 90 miles an hour from the moment I wake up to the time I got to bed," Luebke said.

Hodgkins Lymphoma is very treatable, and doctors have given this firefighter a good prognosis.  He should be done with treatment after this summer.

"By fall, we're praying we've got some good news, and hopefully by hunting season, I'll be back to normal," Luebke said, laughing.

Every day, on the job and in life, plans change.  When it comes to choosing life or death, Dustin Luebke keeps going, learning, and fighting.

"We have to adapt and overcome obstacles.  You get thrown and this is just like that.  We'll adapt to it, overcome it, and be better in the end," Luebke said.

A donation fund for Dustin Luebke is set up at the Sioux Empire Federal Credit Union.
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