- August 18, 2022
Matt Talaska, a captain for East Manatee Fire Rescue, watched every move as four fire trucks responded to a multi-structure fire on Feb. 29 in Lakewood Ranch.
He watched as the firemen took care of the matters at hand, and as they went about preparation for those unexpected problems, such as a cut-off water supply or a trapped fireman. Every possible scenario was being considered.
Oh, and there was no fire.
It was an exercise at the training tower behind the East Manatee Fire Rescue station on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard.
As a training captain, it is Talaska's duty to prepare for the unforeseen. It's also his passion.
"He's always looking how to do it safer, more efficient," said Casey Lambert, who as battalion chief is Talaska's boss. "He sees the growth of our district, and he wants to ensure we are doing everything we can to get the best results for our taxpayers."
On Feb. 24, Talaska's efforts were recognized as he was named East Manatee Fire Rescue's 2019 Officer of the Year.
"The award means our team is working well together," said Talaska, who is responsible for training 26 firefighters. "I'm one of the old guys who believes in technology training that can help them. The fact we can have training like we did today allows us to give criticism and to get feedback. I would like to think that is how I work (being open to criticism and giving feedback)."
The 46-year-old Talaska joined East Manatee Fire Rescue in 1997 as a volunteer and was hired full-time in 2000. He and his wife Memra have two children, 11-year-old Brenna and 10-year-old Zach.
Along with Talaska, firefighter Joe Koehler pulled down a major award as he was named East Manatee Fire Rescue's 2019 Firefighter of the Year.
Like Talaska, Koehler said his fellow firefighters made his award possible.
"I've got a lot of good coworkers who help me out," he said. "I don't know I've done anything extraordinary. I've just done my job."
Koehler's area of responsibility is to order and maintain nozzles, adapters and other equipment.
"Every year we're buying two trucks," he said of the district. "I learned quickly what to buy and I've taken responsibility for it."
While that might seem like a mundane duty, it's important to the firefighters who go out on a call.
"Our community and our taxpayers expect us to show up and perform," Koehler said. "If we didn't have the proper tools, it would not be good for us."
Koehler, who lives in Ellenton, has three children, 3 1-2-year-old twins in Lindsey and Logan, and 15-month-old Ally, with his wife Jodi.
He is originally from Michigan where his dad, Jim Koehler, was a volunteer fireman.
"This is a second career for me," Koehler said. "I was a golf pro at Tara Country Club for five years. This was always pulling at me."
He was hired by East Manatee Fire Rescue in 2014.
"This is the best job anyone could have," he said. "I wanted to be able to serve the people I see every day."
Another award given out by East Manatee Fire Rescue was the 2019 Rookie of the Year award that went to firefighter Jordon Rogers. Receiving service awards were Koehler and Inspector Nate Young (five years of service), engineer Mike Hamilton and Lt. Derek LaPlante (10 years), engineers Daniel Lane and Jefferson Bagley and Lt. Eric Hoying (15 years), Lt. Chad Gamble (20 years), and Inspector CeCe Hartsfield (25 years).
Certificates of appreciation were presented to Koehler, firefighter Isaac Libby, engineers Jacob Lilly and Craig Madsen, Lt. Luke Fay and Lt. James Darby for their exemplary work in their assigned areas of responsibility.