BRADENTON – Jeff Philips is the West Manatee Fire Rescue’s Firefighter of the Year, Richard Losek is Officer of the Year and William “Buddy” Bowen is the recipient of the Meritorious Service Award.
Fire Chief Tom Sousa handed out these special awards and other service awards on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at the fire district’s administrative offices in Bradenton.
“We recognize a firefighter and an officer of the year for the exceptional work they do. It’s not just what they’ve done in the last year, it’s generally cumulative. Year-in, year-out, these guys bring something to the organization,” Sousa said.
All three special award winners were selected by their peers.
Firefighter of the year
First Class Firefighter Philips has been with the district since 2004.
“Jeff’s not really a boat guy, but we moved him out to station 3 (in Holmes Beach) and said, ‘Now you’re going to be a boat guy.’ He tackled that challenge. He also works at the fire school at Manatee Technical College doing a lot of training. The guys felt he stepped up this year. He’s very deserving of the award,” Sousa said.
“I had no clue. This is a nice surprise,” Philips said afterwards.
Officer of the Year
“I have never in the fire service met someone as passionate about their agency and as loyal and as dedicated,” Sousa said of Losek.
“He works really hard to move this district forward every single day. He’s always looking out for the best interests of the people he supervises. He’s an excellent fire scene commander. We have a saying: “Everybody goes home,” and that’s what he lives by – to make sure everybody’s healthy and safe when they get done with their 24 hours of duty,” Sousa said.
Losek also was recognized for 30 years of service. He began in 1987 as a volunteer firefighter with the Anna Maria Fire Control District and was part of the 2000 merger that created the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District. He works out of the administrative office and visits all three fire stations when making his daily rounds. The district has two fire stations in west Bradenton and one in Holmes Beach.
“It’s an honor for your peers to pick you. You give your heart and soul to the job for 30 years. It really isn’t a job when you love coming to work every day. I’ve been blessed,” Losek said.
Sousa said the Meritorious Service Award is not given annually, but only when there’s a reason to recognize someone’s exceptional work. Sousa said Bowen spends much of his own time working with the firefighters, serving as their union representative and as their advocate for health and safety issues.
“He’s really stepped up to the plate these last couple years. He gives the guys a voice when they have concerns,” Sousa said.
He credited Bowen for the good working relationship that exists between labor and management.
“He’s looking out for the best interests of the district. He’s not just looking out for ‘I’ and ‘us,’ ” Sousa said.
“I’m completely caught off guard. I’m very honored,” Bowen said.
Administrative Assistants Julie Kichar and Chris O’Kelly, who was not present, were recognized for 20 years of service
Kichar started with the Anna Maria Fire Control District and was also part of the merger. She served 17 years as the district’s financial assistant.
“When I became fire chief, she was promoted to administrative assistant. My success is attributable primarily to Julie being here. She actually runs the place,” Sousa said.
Robert Haygood was promoted to First Class Firefighter. His wife, Jessica, unpinned his badge and his mom, Cheryl Haygood, pinned his new badge to his uniform.
Zac Benshoff and Derek Bill were recognized for five years of service.
Frank Agresta, Alex Flores and Andrew Powers were promoted to Third Class Firefighters and Branden Baserva, Danielle Burton, Matthew Frey, Richard Johnson, Clayton Lease, Sean Morrisey and Benjamin Stasurek were recognized for one year of service as reserve firefighters.
Financial assistant Ana Reyes was recognized for one full year of service.