PHOTO/WMFR CAPT. TOM SOUSA
The firefighters of B shift are from left, top row, Carlo Valente, Lt. James Leigh, Lt. Jeff Lonzo and Ryan Moore and bottom row, Brian Gaskill, Dion Niemo, Battalion Chief Barry Brooks, Capt. Chris Kiernan, Bill Kimbrell and Mike Bugel. Firefighter Bryan Mikolay is not pictured.
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.
This is the second part in the series and features the men of B shift.
Battalion Chief Barry Brooks, 42, was a firefighter for eight months in Hardee County before joining the district in 1990.
"I got out of the military and went to fire and EMT school," he said. "I like the paramilitary aspect of it. I wanted a happy medium – the fire district doesn’t care how you roll your socks.
"I like the instant gratification in knowing that I’ve made a difference. I also like the schedule and the camaraderie."
On his days off, Brooks teaches at the fire academy and paramedic school at MTI. He enjoys playing softball, hunting, outdoors activities and being with his family. His wife, Kerri, is a firefighter/paramedic with the Longboat Key Fire Department and they have two children, Seth, 17; and Dalton, 9.
Ryan Moore, 31, has been with the district since 1999 and volunteered approximately a year before being hired.
"I went to EMT school and I decided to move on," Moore said. "It’s a good fit for me and I like the schedule where you work one day and have two days off."
Moore, who is single, said on his days off, he likes to fish, but mostly catches sunburn.
Brian Gaskill, 31, has been with the district for four years and was a volunteer with the Nokomis Fire Department for three years prior to being hired.
"I was in restaurant management. I decided to volunteer, and I found that I really enjoyed it," he said. "It’s a good mix of things to do – physical, technical, clerical.
"The hours are accommodating to having hobbies, and I like the camaraderie with the other guys. Everyday is different and you never know what you are going to see."
Gaskill is a boater and fisher and is married to Christianne.
Bill Kimbrell, 29, began as a volunteer with the district in 2003 and was hired in 2004.
"Firefighting is always something I thought about doing when I was a little kid," he said. "I went to college first and studied computers, but then became a firefighter.
"I like helping people out, and I like the freedom of the job. You get to learn a bit about everything, and there’s never a dull moment."
Kimbrell enjoys fishing, softball and other sports and is married to Elizabeth.
Mike Bugel, 31, has been with the district for four years and worked for Marion County Fire & Rescue for two-and-a-half years before being hired.
Bugel, who has a degree in behavioral science from Florida Atlantic University, recalled, "I wanted to go to medical school, but I ran out of money. I was living in Boca Raton and had friends who were firefighters, so I thought I’d try it.
"I like the idea that you are making a difference. You feel like you’ve accomplished something. At the end of the day, you know what you’ve done."
Bugel, a serious golfer, works for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy at IMG when he is not at WMFR and is married to Toni.
Dion Niemo, 35, has been with the district for five years and began volunteering in 1999.
"I played football for 14 years and wanted a profession that has a brotherhood, a team," he explained. "It doesn’t feel like a job.
"I like the satisfaction of helping people and putting people at ease. If you can make them relax and smile, it makes it easier for them to handle the situation."
Niemo plays softball and boasts that he is "the best slugger on the West Manatee team." He and his fiancée, Marissa, enjoy family activities with their three children, Mikayla, 8; Maddie, 2; and Miranda, 6 months.
Lt. James Leigh, 32, had been with the district for seven years and began volunteering in 1994.
"I worked at Island Foods and the firefighters used to come in the store and I talked to them," he said of his interest in firefighting. "I also had a friend who was a volunteer. I like the dynamics. Every day is something different.
Leigh enjoys drag racing and fishing and is married to Jennifer.
Carlo Valente, 31, has been with the district for two years and was a volunteer for six months before being hired.
"I like the brotherhood, the camaraderie; you become roommates with the other guys," he said. "I like the variety of work. You never know what to expect."
Valente enjoys fishing, boating, remodeling his house and playing softball with the West Manatee team and says he "has the most wins of any coach in West Manatee history." He and his wife, Malisa, have a daughter, Haily, 4 1/2.
Capt. Chris Kiernan, 36, became a volunteer in 1991 and was hired by the district in 1994.
"In 1991, my father told me that if he had stayed in the military, he could be retiring," Kiernan explained about his career choice. "He wrote down a list of jobs with retirement and told me to apply for them.
"I like working with the group of guys I’m with; it’s like having a bunch of brothers. It’s not like a job because every day is different and I like the schedule because I can spend time with my son."
Kiernan said he enjoys bowling, fishing, golfing, softball and activities with his son, Colin, 3.
Lt. Jeff Lonzo, 36, began as a volunteer in 1991 and was hired by the district in 1996.
"My uncle, Danny Stephens, a firefighter with Cedar Hammock, told me I needed to do something with my life and said the district would pay me to go to school. I found that I really enjoy doing it.
"I like the schedule because it gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my family. If we want to go on a trip, I have the ability to get four days off."
Lonzo said firefighter Keith Miller got him started fishing commercially and he has begun guiding. He is currently building a wooden boat. He also has a third degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three children, Karson, 15; Remy, 5; and Ozzy, 2.
Brian Mikolay, who Is out due to illness, is also on B shift.