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East Manatee Fire Rescue presents top awards

Capt. Josh Dillard (Officer of the Year) and firefighter Jason Morrow (Firefighter of the Year) were honored by East Manatee Fire Rescue April 15.
Capt. Josh Dillard (Officer of the Year) and firefighter Jason Morrow (Firefighter of the Year) were honored by East Manatee Fire Rescue April 15.
Photo by Jay Heater
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Sometimes those who deal with life and death situations need to have a sense of humor.

Take, for instance, Capt. Josh Dillard of East Manatee Fire Rescue.

He was talking about what makes Jason Morrow, the department's 2023 Fireman of the Year, special.

"He is so cool and level-headed at the scene," Dillard said. "It's kind of a joke here that if you ever see Jason running, you had better be able to run faster."

Sitting in an office at Station 1 in Lakewood Ranch, Dillard and Morrow laughed a little bit at the "I might not be able to outrun a bear, but I can outrun you," comment.

During a 30-minute interview, the two were obviously at ease, more friends than supervisor and employee.

"I've always looked at Jason as a mentor," said Dillard, who at 34 is 16 years his junior. "We spend a lot of time together off duty."

Dillard said Morrow's lessons aren't just about being a firefighter. They also involve life in general. Both have two children, although Morrow's kids are 25 and 23 and Dillard's kids are 5 and 2.

The respect goes both ways.

"I've learned more from him than anyone," Morrow said of working with East Manatee Fire Rescue. "In general, it's just his knowledge."

Morrow has worked 18 years for East Manatee Fire Rescue, and was with Emergency Medical Services for seven years previously. He met Dillard when he joined East Manatee 13 years ago.

It didn't take Morrow long to realize Dillard was working hard to learn whatever he could about being a fireman. When Dillard spoke, even early in his career, he knew what he was talking about.

"I didn't expect it," Morrow said. "I remember thinking, 'Wow! This guy knows his stuff.'"

He still does.

Morrow nominated him for the 2023 Officer of the Year award, which was presented to Dillard on awards night April 15 at the same time Morrow received his honor. It was fitting since the two say they are kind of a package deal.

Morrow used to drive Dillard's truck when he was in charge of it as a lieutenant. They have worked together often since, including the last year at Station 1.

Dillard would like to move up the ladder, and he was just promoted to captain this month. The next rung would be battalion chief. So his assignments coincide with his goals.

Morrow can retire next January if he so desires, but he said he will hang around for a while because he loves his job.

Station 1 wouldn't be many firefighters' first pick to be assigned.

"We have 10 stations," Dillard said. "And if anyone needs a light bulb, they call Station 1. Not many guys enjoy being here, but he chose to come here."

Morrow doesn't sweat the small stuff and he believes many of his small responsibilities are what led to him being honored as firefighter of the year.

"I come to work, and I try to make everyone better," he said. "That can be by training the rookies, or helping out around the station."

Sometimes firemen have lulls between their calls and Morrow said they can get complacent. He tries to keep that from happening.

"You've got to be ready," Morrow said.

He believes Dillard always is ready. 

"Training-wise, he is just at another level," Morrow said of Dillard. "He has grown as an officer."

Dillard said he was surprised by the award, and he is quick to admit that he has grown since his early days at East Manatee Fire Rescue. He remembered yelling at a fireman who had messed up.

"Grown men don't like that," he said.

The years have helped him mature and his patience level has improved. 

"I have had a good work ethic," he said. "I got it from my father (David Dillard, who was a parks superintendent for Manatee County.)"

Morrow keeps coming back to learn more as well.

"I just love the job," he said. "I love the camaraderie, and helping people when you are needed."

Firemen in today's world need to keep on top of their training.

"You are in the public eye more, and everything is on camera," Morrow said.

Morrow also keeps an eye on fellow firefighters who have to to put up with emotional situations that would be overwhelming to many.

"Fortunately, I have not had that happen," Morrow said of being overwhelmed by seeing death or critical injuries.

He does look for signs his coworkers might need someone to talk about the stress.

"You look for people who are not acting normal, guys who are usually talkative, but are not (talking)."



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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