The courage of heroes is sacrificial. They forget about themselves to protect and serve others. Zac Zukovsky, project manager for SERVE Central California, is a prime example of that. This past May, he risked his own life to save a family from a ferocious fire that engulfed their mobile home.
Without hesitation he put his safety on the line and is responsible for saving six lives that night in North Fork, California.
It all happened May 20, 2016, just after 10 p.m. Zukovsky was standing outside the Old South Fork Inn, along with his wife, Emilie Williams, and 12-year-old daughter Rylee. They were simply enjoying a view of the stars.
Just then, he noticed flames coming out of the water heater cabinet of the mobile home next door, which was located on the exterior of the trailer. Without hesitation, the North Fork native sprang into action.
“I don’t even know why I looked over in that direction, but when I saw the flames, I ran over and looked in the window,” Zukovsky said. “There were no lights on inside and it was all dark, but I could see there were flames in the bathroom, burning the ceiling.”
Zukovsky found himself running toward the flames and proceeded to shove open the front door of the mobile home and make his way into a flume of darkness. Because of the thick black smoke that enveloped the small home, he was left blind sighted.
“I couldn’t see anything, so I just started screaming ‘fire’ and yelling for them to run towards the sound of my voice,” Zukovsky said.
Shortly after, Tasha Goldberg and her children raced outside. In that moment, one of the girls noticed that one of the children was not accounted for – an 8-year-old boy. Zukovsky asked Goldberg how many children were inside, but she was too inconsolable and overcome with fear to answer him. Zukovsky took it upon himself to race back into the burning mobile home to find the boy, followed by Goldberg. They found the boy in one of the rooms.
“Just as [Tasha] was grabbing him off of the bed, I saw the flames in his room ignite- just in that instant,” Zukovsky recalled. “Mom told the boy to run, and since he couldn’t see, he ran right into me. I grabbed him, the mom grabbed the back of my shirt, and we ran back out of the house.”
Almost instantly after making it out of the mobile home safely, it went up in flames said Zukovsky, and only minutes after that, it was reduced to a pile of rubble.
“The whole thing happened in about 20 seconds, then the entire house went up,” says Zukovsky. “I did not care about the possessions; all I cared about was getting those kids out. I had no choice but to go in, but you either have to commit or cower, and I’ve never considered myself a coward.”
When firefighters arrived on the scene, there was little that could be done to save the home. However, firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to surrounding structures.Unfortunately, several of the Goldberg’s family pets were lost in the fire, but everyone else made it out safely with no injuries.
The next day, Zukovsky and his family returned to the singed remains of what used to be the Goldberg’s home. There, they delivered bags of clothing to the family in need.
Helping displaced individuals is nothing new to Zukovsky, who was once nominated for North Fork’s Citizen of the Year award about 10 years ago. He currently serves as the project coordinator of SERVE Central California, a program in the Department of Social Work Education, where he provides educational and job placement opportunities for Native American students at Fresno State and other campuses across the Central Valley.
“I love my job,” he says, and as far as his heroic efforts last Friday, it’s all part of service to the community. “I love my community, love my town, and would have done the same for anybody.”
-By Sierra Frank, CHHS Communication Student Assistant