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East County Wednesday, May 11, 2022 1 week ago

East Manatee Fire Rescue names its major award winners

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Firefighter Ryan Berggren and Lt. Shawn Battick go above and beyond for the department.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

When firefighter Ryan Berggren of East Manatee Fire Rescue received a call about a residential fire in the area of Mill Creek where he lives, the fact he was off-duty didn’t stop him from helping out.

“Even on your days that you're off, you're still a fireman,” Lt. Shawn Battick said.

Berggren met two other off-duty firefighters at the residence, and they were able to force entry into an unoccupied home to save three dogs trapped inside.

Before the trucks could arrive, they extinguished the majority of the fire using a hose found at the house, and with trash cans they filled with pool water.

Both Battick and Berggren said passion and dedication are essential to excel as a firefighter. They spoke about that passion after they both received awards during the fire rescue’s Annual Promotions, Awards, and Recognition Program.

Held April 18, the event recognized Berggren as Firefighter of the Year and Battick as Fire Officer of the Year. The Board of Fire Commissioners voted on the award after they took nominations from East County Fire Rescue staff members.

Lieutenant Shawn Battick and Firefighter Ryan Berggren are the winners of the Fire Officer of the Year and Firefighter of the Year awards.

The other major award went to firefighter Jared Hoopingarner, who was named Rookie of the Year.

Battalion Chief Matt Talaska said of Berggren and Battick, “Both of them are very active and involved in training. They're very active and involved in operations. They're two of our best employees, and we felt they should be recognized.”

“I'm grateful for it,” Battick said. “I definitely don't feel that I’ve done anything extra to deserve it. But somebody nominated me, and I do appreciate it.”

Battick, who has been with East Manatee Fire Rescue for 18 years, said that he believes he was selected for the awards because he fills a current void, as economic issues have resulted in the administrative role of captain being unoccupied for the past year. As a result, he has been trying to assist Talaska with supervisory duties as much as possible, including scheduling training.

He said his management style is to avoid micromanaging.

“I'd much rather have trust in my people,” he said. “If I have a good crew here, and I meet their needs, they are going to make me look good.”

Berggran, a Sarasota native who has been with East Manatee Fire Rescue two years, worked the six previous years as a firefighter in Hillsborough County. He said maintaining a sense of positivity throughout his shifts has been important to his success. He noted that the duties of a firefighter can be intense, and the scenes that firefighters must respond to can be emotionally challenging.

During a training exercise, firefighter Ryan Berggren places a ladder against a window as an exit for other firefighters.

He said his fellow firefighters help him move beyond those calls.

“We don’t want to take it home to the family,” he said. “We don’t want to share (with family) what we see. So, we rely on (fellow firefighters) to help take that off us, or at least help with relieving what we see, especially when it comes to the bad calls and the ones involving children.”

“You need that good core group of people that you're working with,” Battick said. “Ryan always, always has a smile on his face. I've never seen him mad. When you do run the serious calls, including the deaths, it is much easier to come back to the station and have that good positive attitude. We always need shoulders to cry on or somebody to talk to.”

Battick said if you don't have great communication skills, you are failing. In the field, Battick said communication is key because "you are trying to manage chaos."

He estimated of their field duties, about 70% consist of medical incidents, but a large portion are also vehicle accidents. Some of the challenges they face include blocking off roads so cars can be removed, while they also attending to the passengers of the wrecked vehicles.

During a training exercise, Lt. Shawn Battick pounds his way through a bolted door.

“Cars never just crash off the road,” said Berggren, noting that when they are seen along the side of the road, it is usually because they have been moved. Battick said numerous fire engines have been hit by rush hour traffic, as many drivers become frustrated when roads are blocked off, and they attempt to keep traveling.

Berggren said extricating passengers from vehicles is a difficult process that requires careful analysis, which he wouldn’t be able to accomplish without the help of former Firefighter of the Year, Dave Manning.  

He said a wrong move can easily destabilize the structure of the vehicle and injure the passenger.

“Every time you make a cut, you have to know what the reaction will be,” he said.

Battick said the firefighters prepare for these situations by taking classes and practicing on used cars.

Battick cited “constant training” as essential in making the firefighters who they are, and said training exercises are always part of the job. Every third day involves training, either through simulations on the training grounds, or online.

Even with the demands, Battick declares his love of the job.

“For me, it’s the greatest job in the world,” he said. “I cannot see myself doing anything else. I know talking to other friends in fire services that once they retire, the one thing they miss is having the guys around them.”

Talaska said Battick is a good bet to continue moving up through the ranks. He said Berggren has a wealth of knowledge and could be in line to move up.

"Hopefully, he will be a future lieutenant, and hopefully a future Fire Officer of the Year.”

“I don't think any of us come in every day and expect to win something,” Battick said. “I sure as heck don't want to be called a hero. I love coming in and doing the job I have. If I can do something to help somebody, that makes me feel better.

“What we've gotten into the job for is to save lives. Life safety is our No. 1 goal. Whatever we can do to accomplish that makes us better people.”

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