The Mill Creek resident was the first fire chief for what has become the East Manatee Fire Rescue District.
Even after nearly 50 years in the fire service, Henry Sheffield never tired of talking about it.
Friend and colleague Steve Trompke said he loved telling stories of fires or incidents he had run as a firefighter. He loved helping those around him learn and grow in their fire service careers and achieve their goals.
As coordinator of Manatee Technical College’s Fire Service Academy since 2014, Sheffield shared his knowledge with those looking to get into the field.
“When a new fire academy class came in, he would walk in and tell the history and how good the fire service had been to him — and how good it will be to them too,” said Trompke, who teaches at MTC. “He was well educated and passionate about the fire service. He will be missed.”
Mill Creek’s Sheffield, who began his career in firefighting in 1973, died Dec. 12. He was 65.
In 1983, Sheffield became the first paid chief of the Braden River Fire Department, which was renamed the East Manatee Fire Rescue District in 2005.
By the time he retired from the post in 2007, he had led the district though tremendous growth and transformation. When he started, the district had an all-volunteer group of firefighters and leased a pole barn with a tin roof and a dirt floor at 6521 State Road 64, Bradenton.
The barn housed mismatched equipment donated from other agencies, and its band of volunteer firefighters was nicknamed “The Tin Can Orphans” due to those conditions.
By 1983, there had been three volunteer fire chiefs in three years, so the board of fire commissioners decided to hire a full-time chief to manage the district. That task went to Sheffield.
Two paid firefighters were added to the payroll in 1988 to address daytime calls when volunteers were not usually available. More were added again in 1992, and a second station was built and staffed in 1997.
Sheffield led the district as it transformed from a volunteer-centric operation into a district with fully staffed stations. In 2005, the district bought 20 acres of land for the construction of what is now East Manatee’s administrative offices (opened in 2005) and central fire station (opened in 2010).
The year before he retired, the district opened its sixth station, now called Station 5.
“Henry truly was a visionary,” said East County’s Byron Teates, who started firefighting as a volunteer at East Manatee Fire Rescue in 1984 and eventually became the district’s fire chief. “He was the right person at the right time to make Braden River/East Manatee the place it is today.
Teates said Sheffield was also instrumental in getting Manatee County’s hazmat team started and was involved with several specialized teams, such as Manatee County’s arson task force.