Not just another winter lifesaving story

Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Steed's Pond photo

It was a mild winter day when Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) TSA Officer (TSO) James Kielkowski and his wife took an afternoon walk near their home in Clearfield, Utah. Kielkowski was getting some exercise after his recent pacemaker implant two weeks earlier.

As they strolled by a city pond, the couple noticed a young boy walking toward the center of the pond where the ice had become thinner because of warmer spring weather. Suddenly, the boy fell through the ice into the freezing water.

Whether it was his paternal instincts or Marine training that kicked in, Kielkowski clearly disregarded his own safety as he ran to the pond. Doing a belly crawl (more Marine training), Kielkowski moved closer to the child when the thin ice gave way, sending Kielkowski into the frigid water. 

Officer Kielkowski photo
Salt Lake City International Airport TSA Officer James Kielkowski (Photo by Max Chesley)

With the ice pushing the helpless boy under water, Kielkowski started to break the ice between him and the boy until reaching the point where he last saw the child — the child was still under water

“I started to break ice with my elbows to get to where the child was,” said Kielkowski. “The water was clear, and I could see him struggling.”

Reaching down in the clear, icy water, Kielkowski grabbed the boy before he was completely swept under the ice shelf and hoisted him up out of the water. Continuing to hold the child above water with his left arm, Kielkowski swam to shore.

Challenge coin photo
Salt Lake City International Airport challenge coin presented to TSA Officer James Kielkowski for his lifesaving actions. (Photo by Max Chesley)

As he approached the edge of the water, witnesses who gathered helped the boy ashore and wrapped him in blankets. Only when Kielkowski was assured the youngster was safely on shore, he sought warmth from the hypothermic, threatening water.

Once the EMTs arrived, they focused their attention on the frozen child. They then turned to Kielkowski and connected him to their diagnostic equipment to check his vital signs and his new pacemaker.

“I was surprised by all their equipment,” said Kielkowski.

Kielkowski’s heroic actions are remarkable, although he said anyone in his place would have done the same thing.

“When I first heard of James jumping into action to save the life of another, it was no surprise to me,” said TSO Kenneth Smith. “James forgot all about himself, as I would expect, and was there for someone in desperate need.”

Only two weeks before the incident, Kielkowski underwent surgery for a heart pacemaker. He was not supposed to exert himself or raise his left arm above his shoulder. After the EMTs evaluated James, he was released and told to go home and take it easy.

“I have worked with TSO James Kielkowski for just shy of two decades,” said SLC Lead TSO Robert Nelson. “I have seen him be a shining example of character and integrity and feel that TSA has truly benefited from his influence and work ethic. He deserves every bit of praise he will receive.”

“By the grace of God, all involved that day went home safely,” Kielkowski reflected. “I give him all the glory.”

Editor’s Note: TSO James Kielkowski received the Utah Patriot Award, which recognizes an individual who performs an act of heroism while off duty, and the TSA Utah challenge coin.

By Wayne Carey, Strategic Communications & Public Affairs