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East County Wednesday, Jul. 7, 2021 10 months ago

Born-and-raised local firefighter wins East Manatee award

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Josh Dillard was awarded as East Manatee Fire Rescue District's Firefighter of the Year.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Josh Dillard has received an award for protecting the area he long has called home.

Dillard, who was born and raised in East County, has been honored as the East Manatee Fire Rescue District's Firefighter of the Year for 2020.

He said the award, which was presented in June, was humbling to receive. Usually the awards are presented six months earlier, but the pandemic shifted the schedule.

The 31-year-old Dillard received the award for his work in the position of engineer, though he has since been promoted to lieutenant, which means he is now a fire officer. Battalion Chief Matt Talaska said Dillard has grown immensely as a firefighter in the past two to three years, aided by his ability to quickly grasp information along with his work ethic.

“The guy just doesn’t stop,” Dillard said. “It’s impressive the way he keeps working when most people would want to sit down and take a break.”

Dillard said the past year and a half has been challenging because of the pandemic. The number of calls received fluctuated, as some people were afraid to go to the hospital. Sometimes, when it was clear a patient did need to go to the hospital, it took a lot of effort to convince that person.

“You don't have the ability to force someone against their will to go,” Dillard said. “I try to inform them or try to create a little bit better trust in the fact that everybody was taking whatever precautions they possibly could, and that being at home and being scared to go to the hospital to get treated wasn't going to make them get any better.”

Deputy Chief William Hall said Dillard was nominated for the award by three of his peers, who cited his performance when working on the scene of incidents, his public relations abilities and interaction with new firefighters.

Talaska said Dillard’s level-headed approach is valuable on the scene of incidents and emergencies. The battalion chief said Dillard has the ability to quickly absorb what he is taught in his training and act on it when out in the field.

“Whether it's a vehicle accident, or we need to extricate somebody, or a fire where we need to make access to places, he's got a good working knowledge of most things,” Talaska said. “He's a very well-rounded mechanical person. I know if we ask Josh to get something done, he’s going to do it.”

Talaska said Dillard understands how to tailor a lesson to different firefighters, regardless of age, experience or personality, so they can learn more effectively. He said this ability will serve Dillard well as an officer, especially because he doesn’t mind walking other firefighters through something multiple times to make sure they fully understand.

Talaska said other firefighters want to work with Dillard because he is constantly aiming to learn and improve. Dillard said it’s easy to work with his fellow firefighters because they enjoy spending time with each other at work and off the job, which makes it easier to communicate with each other while working.

Dillard also became a union representative for his shift, meaning he has worked on negotiations between the firefighters and fire district on a new collective bargaining agreement. He has also participated on the committee that is working on the merger between East Manatee and the Myakka City Fire Department.

Dillard became a firefighter in 2009, choosing the job over joining the Army or Marines.

“I didn’t want to be away from my family,” Dillard said. “So I decided to try my adventures in the fire service.”

He was first hired by East Manatee in 2012 after three years as a volunteer with the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District. He was awarded Rookie of the Year in 2013. Dillard said he enjoys the job because it never becomes routine.

“It's never a mundane day when you come into work,” Dillard said. “Even the typical medical call, everything's different. I never get tired of what I'm doing.”

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Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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