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East County Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2021 9 months ago

New battalion chiefs promoted in East Manatee fire district

East Manatee becomes the first fire district in the county to split into two battalions.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Paul Wren’s father, Rick Wren, joined the East Manatee Fire Rescue District as a volunteer firefighter in 1995 when it was still called the Braden River Fire Control and Rescue District.

The younger Wren grew up near Braden River High School and watched as the area grew. The fire district grew, as well — and changed names for good measure.

In 2007, Paul Wren followed in his father’s footsteps and became a volunteer firefighter with East Manatee. He overlapped with his father for four years, before the elder Wren retired as a lieutenant in 2011.

On April 19, Paul Wren was officially promoted to battalion chief, one of six within the district. His dad was there alongside Paul Wren’s wife, Dreama Wren, to “pin” the new battalion chief, a ceremony during which family members commemorate their loved one’s promotion by inserting the pin indicating a new rank onto the firefighter’s uniform for the first time.

Newly promoted Battalion Chief Paul Wren is "pinned" by his father, former East Manatee Fire Rescue District firefighter Rick Wren, and his wife, Dreama Wren, at the grand opening of the district's Station 8. Courtesy photo.

“For him to be able to follow my career, to be able to see me reach this point where I’m promoted to battalion chief, it’s pretty special,” Paul Wren said. “Him being able to stand up there with me and pin my badge on was truly a moving moment for me. Having him and then my partner in life, my wife, she's my best friend and my biggest advocate.”

Wren’s promotion was one of 11, including two others promoted from captain to battalion chief, celebrated by the East Manatee fire district at the grand opening of the district’s Station 8. East Manatee Fire Chief Lee Whitehurst said opening a new station always creates a need for new lieutenants and engineers. Since the district now has eight stations, it also needed to split into two battalions, which led to the promotion of the new battalion chiefs and two new captains.

The three new battalion chiefs, Wren, Matt Talaska and Charles Reid, have been assigned to the battalion west of Lorraine Road. The three tenured battalion chiefs will oversee the battalion east of Lorraine Road, which means they will be stationed at the newest station on Bourneside Boulevard. This is the first time a Manatee County fire district has split into two battalions.

Newly promoted Battalion Chief Matt Talaska is "pinned" by his son, Zachary Talaska, daughter, Brenna Talaska, and wife, Memra Talaska, at the grand opening of the fire district's eight station April 19. Courtesy photo.

Whitehurst said the district made the decision because it felt the more experienced battalion chiefs would have an easier time working to get the new battalion up and running. The new battalion chiefs can then focus on adjusting to their jobs in the long-existing battalion where standard procedure is already established.

Talaska joined the district as a volunteer firefighter in 1997. He said he was honored to be promoted, which means he is now responsible for overseeing the western half of the district’s operations every third day for 24 hours. He also said there is added pressure that comes with the role.

“It's also a little scary, but exciting, to have an entire shift of guys look up to you to see how you handle things,” Talaska said.

Newly promoted Battalion Chief Charles Reid is "pinned" by his wife, Monica Reid, at the grand opening of the fire district's eight station April 19. Courtesy of East Manatee fire district.

Talaska said one of the biggest challenges will be learning to become a link between the firefighters under his command and administrators such as Whitehurst and the deputy chiefs. On top of that, he has to learn how to coordinate with the other battalion if, for example, the other battalion chief was tied up with a fire on his side of the district.

Reid started with the East Manatee fire district in 2002. He said he was ready to move off the fire engine and begin a new challenge.

"Now I have the opportunity to pass on some of my knowledge to the future firefighters," Reid said.

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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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