Stefan Gansert is a professional firefighter in Fairfax County and volunteers as a station chief in Prince George's County. He has a wife and two children. And now, as if he were not already busy enough, he is the interim football coach at Fairmont Heights.
"I use every minute that I have," said Gansert, 37, one of five first-year coaches in the county. "I sleep about one hour a night. I'm young. How many hours do you need? I don't need that much."
Promoted from assistant coach last month to fill the spot left open by Ralph Paden's retirement after 29 seasons, Gansert is enjoying being in charge of the Hornets. Although he normally works eight 24-hour shifts a month at Station 19 in Lorton, he is taking leave to keep the job from interfering with the time he spends on the football field.
He still carries his radio to monitor events at the Chapel Oaks Volunteer Fire Department. The only time he leaves the radio behind, Gansert said, is when he takes the field. If at any other time there is a serious call, Gansert joins the responding unit.
When there is a radio call "at night, that's when my wife gets frustrated," Gansert said.
Gansert, a 1986 graduate of Fairmont Heights who played for Paden, wants to bring the same level of dedication to his job as a football coach. Although he is not in the building during the school day, Gansert may get some help from Paden, who is still teaching at Fairmont Heights and plans to interact with the players during the school day. So far, Paden said, he has been impressed with Gansert's work ethic.
"He's super-dedicated," Paden said. "Whether that will last 29 years or not, I don't know, but for the time being he has the energy and the zest to do both jobs."
Gansert's enthusiasm and commitment are nothing new; those traits helped him get started as a coach. Paden likes to joke that his former players always returned to watch or help out at practice -- "we don't have any openings," Paden would tell them -- but Gansert kept coming back every day until finally Paden allowed him to coach the junior varsity team.
"I couldn't get rid of him," Paden said. "So I hired him."
Gansert gradually began doing more work with the varsity team, giving as much commitment to football as he did firefighting. When American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, Gansert's unit rushed to the scene. Getting too close to the heat while trying to put out the fire on the building's third floor, Gansert suffered burns on his neck and knees. He spent four hours in the hospital and the next day traveled to New York to help at the World Trade Center site.
"I'm not saying we want to get hurt, and I hope I never get hurt, but injuries do happen," Gansert said. "It's part of our profession."
Despite his injuries, Gansert was determined not to miss any Fairmont Heights games. He showed up on the sideline Sept. 22 at Central with bandages around his head and legs. "I looked like I was in a war," Gansert said.
His players noticed. Senior running back Greg Bailey, then a freshman, remembered Gansert's injury and how he talked to the team about his job. "He's a brave man to me," Bailey said. "He's a hero."
"They know I'm here not just to teach them about the game of football," Gansert said, "but about the game of life."