On-the-job experience over the past eight years confirms for Michael Reyer what he suspected all along, that once he became a firefighter he couldn’t, as he put it, “imagine doing anything else.”
Reyer reflected on his career choice outside The Regent on Oct. 17, standing beside Engine No. 331, the “fire engine caisson.” The Hillsborough County Fire Rescue fire pumper is outfitted to carry a firefighter’s casket should their life have been lost in the line of duty.
Inside The Regent, county firefighters killed in the line of duty since 1973 were solemnly remembered. Following the commemorative bell ceremony, nine awards and 18 firefighters were presented and commended, as hundreds of employees and community members recognized a year’s worth of achievement.
Among them was Fire Chief Ronald “Ron” Rogers, who by his accounting oversees 1,015 employees, 170 reservists and a $125 million budget. He started his career in 1982 as an emergency medical technician, 15 years before fire rescue and emergency medical services merged into one agency.
“It’s a desire to help people and make a difference, that’s what drives the men and women of fire rescue,” Rogers said following the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Foundation 2013 Awards Ceremony. “They just want to make a difference.”
Reyer is a case in point.
Friends urged him to apply for his job eight years ago, he said, and he followed through because “being able to do something more important, more rewarding than the average person on the average job” was “an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.”
The annual awards ceremony, Reyer added, allows us “to come together as one big family and recognize those who have gone above and beyond.”
Remembered were the seven county firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty since 1973: Robert Baltimore (1983), Jeffrey Holt (1988), Darryl Dzugen (2001), Gregory Reeher (2005), Keith Adams (2005), Jonathan Riegg (2006) and Iran D. “I.D.” Rivers (2013).
Rivers, 48, of Tampa, a 20-year veteran of the force, died in September after suffering a heart attack at Fire Station 6.
Rogers said he knew personally almost every one of the fallen firefighters.
“This truly is a family, a large family, and it’s tough to deal with the losses,” he said. “I lost my father and sister last year. It took almost as much out of me losing I.D. as it did losing them.”
Several of the awards presented reflected the service of their namesakes posthumously:
* John Fragomeni received the Jeffrey Holt Reserve Responder Award, named for the volunteer firefighter who in 1988 “made the ultimate sacrifice while responding to a call.”
* Marie Haynes received the Tim Pollard Support Services Award, in recognition of the “essential functions that support fire rescue,” including “administrative support, logistics, human resource management and apparatus maintenance.” As noted: “Tim could fix [just] about anything except the failing heart he had given so much of over the years to Hillsborough County.”
* Battalion Chief Ernie Wargo Sr. took home the Gilbert Rodriguez Leadership Award, named for Chief “Gil” Rodriguez, whose “fire service career spanned well over three decades” and whose “mentoring helped develop many firefighters and paramedics into the leaders they are today.”
* John Rankin received the Nancy Lee McKay Paramedic of the Year Award, “the highest medical recognition bestowed to a paramedic with fire rescue.” McKay is remembered as the matriarch of county emergency medical services. Rankin joined Joe Krajacic, Brian Jared and Kyle Kemp as quarterly nominees.
* William D. “Derrick” Bell received the Chet Tharpe Firefighter of the Year Award, named in honor of Hillsborough County’s first fire chief and fire marshal. The award is considered the highest honor bestowed to a member of the department and is given for “heroism, outstanding accomplishment or lifetime commitment to fire service.” Bell joined captains Troy O’Nan and E.J. Fernandez and fire medic Celia Merritt as quarterly nominees.
Rounding out the awards presented:
* Diane Gleason and Ted Williams received the Distinguished Service Citation, “for exceptionally meritorious service” while “assigned to an activity in a position of great responsibility.”
* Troy Rozzell received the Fire Marshal Service Citation, in recognition of “the unsung heroes of the fire service,” the “many inspectors, plan reviewers, investigators and public educators whose accomplishments are often not recognized because they helped prevent calamity from occurring in the first place.”
* Stephen Joe Benjamin earned the Administrative Service Citation, given to managers who “overcome adversity, provide strong direction and vision and demonstrate a can-do attitude to maintain high standards.”
* Telecommunicator of the Year went to Hattie Strickland, who joined Ricardo Pardo and Stephanie Maynes as quarterly nominees.