WMFR celebrates excellence and career milestones

Officer of the Year, Battalion Chief Rich Losek, and Firefighter of the Year Josh Adkins strike a pose with Adkins’s wife. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON – Firefighters and staff with West Manatee Fire Rescue had a lot to celebrate Jan. 15 during the district’s annual awards ceremony held at the administration building.

Awards were given in recognition of meritorious service and years of service to the district, along with the Firefighter of the Year and Officer of the Year awards.

Honored for years of service were Firefighter Cameron Fraizer who’s been with WMFR for five years, Firefighter Jerrod Apple and Inspector Rodney Kwiatkowski for 10 years of service, Firefighters Brian Gaskill and William “Buddy” Bowen for 15 years and Firefighter Nathan Berbom for 20 years of service. Apple and Berbom were not present during the awards ceremony.

Captain-turned-Battalion Chief Ryan Moore’s family was on hand for his promotion. His wife and children came up to assist Moore in pinning on his new badge and celebrating his promotion.

Administrative Battalion Chief Ben Rigney, Battalion Chief Rich Losek and Firefighter Alex Flores were honored for their deployment to the Florida Panhandle with one of the district’s advanced life support fire engines as a part of a Hurricane Michael response team. The group was part of one of five strike teams from Manatee County and the only ALS engine in the group. Rigney served as leader of all five Manatee County teams during the more than one week of deployment. The strike teams were deployed to Port St. Joe and Marianna.

The next awards were the Firefighter of the Year and Officer of the Year awards chosen by a vote of the district’s firefighters. Chief Tom Sousa said this year was an anomaly being the first year that the district handed out two Firefighter of the Year awards, one to Firefighter/Paramedic Andrew Powers and another to Firefighter Josh Adkins. While he said it’s usually one firefighter who stands out among the rest over the course of the year, both Adkins and Powers received the same number of votes. Sousa said he “sees a bright future going forward” for both men.

The Officer of the Year award went to Battalion Chief Rich Losek for the second year in a row. Losek received a standing ovation from the attending firefighters for his work with the district. He is set to retire from the fire service in March.

Ending the evening’s festivities was the award of the gavel to 2018 board chairman Larry Jennis in honor of his first year as chair of the fire commission.