SUN PHOTO/PAT COPELAND
The firefighters of C shift are from left, top row, Capt. Rich Jasinski, William "Buddy" Bowen, Keith Miller, Ben Dillon, John Stump and Battalion Chief Rich Losek and, bottom row, Paul Hopkins, Dan Tackett, Lt. Tom Owen, Lt. John Flinn and Jeff Taylor.
By Pat Copeland
sun staff writer
Most of us see our firefighters when we are in trouble – in a car accident, a fire or a similar emergency event.
We thought our readers would like to know a little about these men who come to our aid quickly and unfailingly to rescue or revive us or to save our property. They do it without fanfare because it is their job and one that they are extremely proud to perform.
There are common threads that run through the stories of the firefighters of the West Manatee Fire & Rescue District – they get immense satisfaction out of helping someone in need, they relish the camaraderie of their fellow firefighters and they have tremendous love and devotion to their families.
The fire district has three shifts, A, B and C, of 11 firefighters each. They are stationed at one of three fire stations in Holmes Beach, Cortez or west Bradenton. They serve 24 hours on duty, and have 48 hours off duty. The first shift featured is C shift.
Here are their stories.
Battalion Chief Rich Losek, 47, was one of the first two firefighters hired full time by the Anna Maria Fire District in 1989. Anna Maria merged with the West Side Fire District in 2000.
"I had a painting business and I got a job doing maintenance at Bridgeport in Bradenton Beach," he explained. "I asked about being a volunteer at Cedar Hammock, but they said I lived out of the district, and told me to go to Anna Maria. There were about 50 volunteers then and they had to vote you in, then you got your gear and were running calls.
"This is the only job I’ve ever had that I like coming to work. I like helping people, and it’s always something different. We have a lot of good guys with a lot of education compared to what we had in the past."
Losek has two children, Elizabeth, 26; and Matthew, 24; and three grandchildren, Caleb, 10; Josh, 8; and Abbagale, 3. In addition to playing with his grandchildren, he enjoys playing softball, running and competing in triathlons.
Paul Hopkins, 31, has been a firefighter for six years and was a volunteer for several months prior to being hired.
"Firefighting is in my family – my grandfather and my uncle," he said. "I like the job, the hours. It’s a fun place to be with good people to work with. It’s not your nine to five job."
Hopkins and his wife, Famerra, have two boys, Nicholas, 3 years; and Christian, 7 months. He enjoys spending time with his family and hunting, fishing and boating.
Keith Miller, 48, has been a firefighter for three years and was a volunteer for 6 months prior to being hired.
"I was a commercial fisherman and then came the net ban," he said. "I was struggling with age and running out of money and a friend told me about the fire service. It’s pretty frightening trying to do a life change at 45."
Miller likens the closeness of the firefighters to a family and said he’d only been with the district one year when he fell out of a tree and broke both feet.
‘"These guys covered my shifts for me and made sure I had money," he recalled. "They saved my job for five months. You don’t get that anywhere else."
Miller and his wife, Del, have five children, Seth, 8; Noah, 7; Mason, 4; and twins Greydon and Blake, 23 months. He enjoys hunting, but from the ground only, he emphasizes, and fishing and still does some commercial fishing.
Lt. John Flinn, 42, has been a firefighter for 23 years and was a volunteer for one year prior to being hired.
"I like the challenge," he said. "Every day is different. Helping people makes you feel good about yourself. I like the shift work because it gives me time to spend with my family.
Flinn and his wife, Jacquelyn, have three children, Thomas, 22; Scott, 19; and Colby, 13. He enjoys hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoors activities.
Dan Tackett, 37, has been a firefighter for six years and was a volunteer for several months before being hired.
"I was in the Air Force for 10 years, so I liked getting back to the paramilitary atmosphere," he said. "I like getting two days off for every day I work, so I can spend time with my children."
Tackett and his wife, Brandy, have three children, Logan, 6; Brandon, almost 5; and Carson, 11 months. He enjoys coaching his son’s T-ball team, helping with his daughter’s soccer team, camping, canoeing, kayaking and cooking seafood and barbecue.
John Stump, 35, has been with the district for 6 years and was a volunteer for eight years prior to being hired.
"When people are in need, they call us and look to us for answers," he said. "When you can help someone, it gives you a good feeling."
Stump and his wife, Pam, have seven children, five of whom are adopted. There are four girls, Chelsea, 11; Casey, 7; Madison, 5; and Miley, 2; and three boys, Austin, 8; Evan 7; and Brandon, 6 in December. They enjoy family activities such as bicycle riding and movies.
Regarding his large family, Stump explained, "In 2000, when I was in paramedic school, my wife said she wanted to be a foster parent. We took classes and here we are seven years later. These children don’t have anything else. We were able to give them a family.
"My wife is the biggest rock I have. I couldn’t do what she does on a daily basis. I get to come to work and do what I love to do because of her."
Ben Dillon, 38, has been a firefighter for one-and-a-half years and was a volunteer for one year prior to being hired
"The work is gratifying; it’s the best job I ever had," he said. " Some people are meant to do certain things. I enjoy making people happy and helping them when they need it most.
"Family is very important to me and it’s important to be a good father. With our schedule, I can spend two days with my family."
Dillon and his wife, Laurie, have two children, Molly, almost 2; and Brody, 3 months. He enjoys fishing and family activities such as going to baseball games and the beach and taking walks.
Captain Rich Jasinski, 42, has been a firefighter for 13 year and was a volunteer for four years prior to being hired.
"I was living in the area and need to find a profession that would allow me to stay," he said. "Firefighting looked interesting. It’s something different all the time. You never know what will happen."
Jasinski, who has been battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma since February 2006 and is being treated at Moffat Cancer Center, said he plans to be back to work in September.
"It’s been a great career choice for me, especially with what’s been going on with my health," he noted. "Everyone looks out for me. I hope to have a sense of normalcy soon."
Jasinski and his wife, Kim, have three children, Randy, 20; Ash, 13; and River, 9. They enjoy family and school-related activities and traveling.
Lt. Tom Owen, 47, has been a firefighter for 15 years and was a volunteer for five years prior to being hired.
"I wanted to be more of a part of the Island, so I joined the fire volunteers and the next thing I knew I was hired," he said. "It fits my personality.
"I get to do all these interesting things and get paid for it. I like to help people, but the true heroes are your neighbors who see smoke and call 911 or see an accident and pull someone out of the car."
Owen and his wife, Janet, enjoy outdoors activities such as camping and back packing, and he also does fishing charters and remodeling. His stepson Bryan Mikolay, is a firefighter with the district on the B shift.
Jeff Taylor, 29, has been a firefighter for more than two years and was a volunteer for nine months prior to being hired.
"I figured it would be an exciting job," he said of firefighting," and I enjoy helping people. I like doing something different every day. You never know what’s going to happen. I also enjoy the camaraderie with the other guys and the 24/48 schedule.
Taylor and his wife, Sadie, have a chocolate Labrador retriever named Jammer. He enjoys outdoors activities including hunting, fishing and camping.
William "Buddy" Bowen, 38, has been a firefighter for four years and previously worked at a fire department in the Keys for six years.
"My family was in the farming business in Polk County – citrus, cattle and hay – and I wanted something different to do," he explained. "The schedule gives me a chance to spend a lot of time with my kids.
"I like the physical part of it, working with my hands, but I don’t like seeing people’s faces when everything they have is ruined or destroyed."
Bowen and his wife, Christy, have two children, Erin, 7; and Buddy, 9. He said he likes to hunt and fish, but most of his spare time is spent working on his house, which he calls his 30-year project.
Next week: Part II, B shift.