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Grand Forks firefighter named national Firefighter of the Year after donating kidney

GFFD Captain Logan Schonert was named the National VFW's Firefighter of the Year for donating his kidney to former Grand Forks Battalion Chief Rick Aamot last year.

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GFFD Captain Logan Schonert was recognized as the VFW's Firefighter of the Year in a small ceremony at the Grand Forks Fire Department May 7, 2021. // Contributed photo
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After a difficult year and an act of selflessness, a Grand Forks firefighter has been recognized as the National VFW's Firefighter of the Year.

Grand Forks Fire Captain Logan Schonert was recognized as the VFW's North Dakota Firefighter of the Year last April , and this month was selected from a group of winners throughout the U.S. as the national award's recipient. He was honored in a brief ceremony last Friday, May 7, at the Grand Forks Fire Department.

Schonert said he felt a little awkward amid all the attention -- while grateful for the accolades, they aren't the reason he decided to donate his kidney to former Grand Forks Fire Battalion Chief Rick Aamot last year.

"I didn't want publicity for doing that, I just wanted to help him out," Schonert said. "I think the more important thing is getting people to know that the donation process can be very simple, and it can change somebody's life. And on the donor side, it has pretty minimal impact. I lead a completely normal life like nothing has ever changed."

Schonert's time with the fire department overlapped with Aamot's for about a decade before Aamot's 30-year career was cut a few months short by his diagnosis with a rare protein disease that attacked his kidneys and heart. Soon, Aamot was on dialysis three times a week and was in need of a kidney.

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Waiting for a kidney on the transplant list can take years, and so Aamot approached the firefighters' union to ask for help searching for an organ donor. When Schonert heard what was going on, he said he took a test to see if he could be a match -- and he was.

Grand Forks Fire Chief Gary Lorenz said he couldn't describe how proud he was of Schonert.

"It warms my heart to know that, you know, here's one of our people willing to go and do this selfless act, this act of kindness, to help a former firefighter," Lorenz said. "Everybody in the department is really impressed and proud of him."

Lorenz also noted that Schonert has had a trying year himself -- last January, his 17-year-old son Kaiser suffered a traumatic head injury while horseback riding in Grand Forks. He has spent the last two months in a hospital in Nebraska, with Schonert driving back and forth between there and Grand Forks on four-day weekends between shifts at the fire department.

Kaiser returned home to Grand Forks on Friday, May 14, where he and his family will continue to work towards his recovery.

"We're going to keep going with his recovery, and push him to get better, and get him to do some of the things he likes -- fishing and getting outdoors, where he wants to be instead of the hospital," Schonert said.

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