Paul Olesniewicz, an Arizona-based sculpture designer, veteran and former firefighter, has created over 40 memorials honoring first responders and the military.
The sculptor's early career as a servicemember and first responder
Olesniewicz completed his service with the United States Army in 1972. He then returned to his home state of Arizona and began a firefighting career spanning three decades.
"There is an old saying that time flies when you're having fun," Olesniewicz said in an interview with the Professional Firefighters of Arizona Magazine. "Well, I must have had the time of my life, for my 32 years in the fire service seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye — an eye with crows, feet that is,"
Olesniewicz began with the United States Forest Service in Flagstaff, then spent a few years at the William Air Force Base in Mesa as a civilian firefighter where he worked in structural firefighting and crash and rescue. The majority of his fire service career was spent with the Tucson Fire Department.
911 Sculptures unites a passion for firefighting and fine arts
Six years after leaving Army service — and in the midst of his firefighting career, Olesniewicz earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture at Northern Arizona University.
It was not until 1994 that he founded his own creative business, 911 Sculptures. Olesniewicz and his team design and create statues honoring first responders including firefighters, EMTs and police officers, as well as members of the military, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
As Olesniewicz says on the business's website, "My goal is to convey the dedication and pride exhibited by firefighters throughout the history of the fire service. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to combine my firefighting experience with my love of art and sculpture."
His work is on display at memorial sites, museums, fire departments and private residences. In 2007, he retired from his firefighting career and began running 911 Sculptures on a full-time basis.
The creative process behind each custom project
To create one of his lifelike statues, Olesniewicz starts with a steel armature and builds out the form using clay. This enables him to achieve an impressive level of detail in the figures' uniforms and expressive faces.
He then takes the full-sized clay sculpture off to a foundry where ceramic molds are created. Molten bronze is carefully poured into the molds. Once cool, the metal pieces are sand-blasted, assembled and welded together. Finally, Olesniewicz applies a patina and protective coat of wax.
Once complete, pieces created by 911 Sculptures are ready to weather the elements and stand as reminders of the daily sacrifices first responders and military members make in service to their community and country.
Olesniewicz works with departments of all sizes across the nation to create custom projects of all scales. One special example is the Tucson Fallen Firefighters Memorial, completed in 2009. This features five life-sized bronze sculptures, including one firefighter wearing full turn-out gear, holding his helmet over his heart. This figure faces a memorial wall engraved with the names of those who lost their lives in the line of duty.
"I like to believe my firefighting background gives me a unique perspective on how important firefighter commemorative and memorial sites are to their communities, departments and their loved ones," Olesniewicz said. "I find it very rewarding to help in my small way to honor our hard-working and brave brothers and sisters. It is the best of both worlds."
Visit the interactive map on the 911 Sculptures website to find Olesniewicz's work at a public site near you.