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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 9:15 am | Fair 58º

 
 
 
 

Santa Maria Elks Honor Top Firefighters

38th annual appreciation night spotlights "best and brightest" from five local agencies

The Santa Maria Elks hosted the 38th annual Firefighters Appreciation Night on Wednesday. PIctured, from left, are Jacob Taylor, son of U.S. Forest Service winner Robert Taylor; Vandenberg Fire Department Staff Sgt. Cole Connors; Elks Exalted Rule Dick Parker; County Fire Capt. Steve Davis; Guadalupe Fire Department Capt. Patrick Schmitz; and Santa Maria Fire Engineer Matt Mihlhauser.
The Santa Maria Elks hosted the 38th annual Firefighters Appreciation Night on Wednesday. PIctured, from left, are Jacob Taylor, son of U.S. Forest Service winner Robert Taylor; Vandenberg Fire Department Staff Sgt. Cole Connors; Elks Exalted Rule Dick Parker; County Fire Capt. Steve Davis; Guadalupe Fire Department Capt. Patrick Schmitz; and Santa Maria Fire Engineer Matt Mihlhauser. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A pair of fire captains, a bulldozer operator, an airman and a fire engineer — personnel from five different agencies — were recognized Wednesday during the 38th annual Firefighter Appreciation Night at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge.

“When a person becomes a firefighter, the greatest act of bravery has been accomplished,” said Interim Fire Chief Scott Kenley of the Santa Maria Fire Department. “What is done after that is all in the line of work.”

Santa Maria employs a unique process to choose its top firefighter — the three most recent recipients make the selection after department members submit nominations, Kenley said.

In selecting this year’s recipient, Engineer Matt Mihlhauser, the committee noted the winner was well-respected among his peers and displays a positive professional attitude toward the job.

He also served on the agency’s tool committee and is an instructor for rookie academy.

“He puts an extreme amount of effort in ensuring that our probationary firefighters receive the best training during their academy and are ready to go the first day upon work,” Kenley said.

As a fire engineer Mihlhauser strives to keep the firefighting equipment well maintained and looking sharp, Kenley added.

Capt. Steve Davis from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department stands with Santa Maria Elks Exalted Ruler Dick Parker on Wednesday during Firefighter Appreciation Night. Click to view larger
Capt. Steve Davis from the Santa Barbara County Fire Department stands with Santa Maria Elks Exalted Ruler Dick Parker on Wednesday during Firefighter Appreciation Night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“I think what makes this a great honor is working with the men and women of the Santa Maria Fire Department,” Mihlhauser said. “They’re a very hard-working group of individuals.”

Last year, the Fire Department responded to 9,970 calls for service and put in 10,000 hours of training, hired five rookie firefighters and promoted three captains and two battalion chiefs.

“I think those numbers really speak for themselves,” he said. 

The Fire Department at Vandenberg Air Force Base recognized Staff Sgt. Cole Connors as its top firefighter.

Connors met every challenge and exceeded expectations, including volunteering for 14-day rotations to support the California wildfires — a mission Senior Master Sgt. Bronson Peters, deputy fire chief, said is “extremely out of an Air Force firefighters comfort zone” since they’re used to dealing with aircraft. 

“He’s a pure performance machine and asks for nothing in return,” Peters said.

Connors transferred to California to be near an ailing grandparent and to mentor a now-17-year-old sister when other relatives were unable. 

A leader sets examples for others, and Vandenberg’s top firefighter has shown “uncommon grace, a dedication to duty and, of course most importantly, capturing the embodiment of service to others,” Peters added.

Happily stationed in Arizona, Connors noted that he arrived at Vandenberg amid his family tragedy. 

“As I stand up here now, I wouldn’t want to be at any other fire department than Vandenberg Air Force Base,” Connors said.

Other honorees were:

» Capt. Patrick Schmitz. of the Guadalupe Fire Department.

“He’s one of those guys who gets everything done,” Public Safety Director Gary Hoving said, adding the recipient installed new emergency red lights on fire equipment and created decals for a newly acquired used fire engine.

Hoving also called Schmitz “one of the most professional firefighters I’ve ever met, and just really a dynamic individual.”

» Capt. Steve Davis of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department,

“In over 200 personnel, Steve has proven year after year he’s that person everyone looks up to. He’s a mentor to his crew, he’s a mentor of the department,” Battalion Chief Anthony Stornetta said.

Davis has served as lead instructor for the department, Stornetta added. 

» Fire bulldozer operator Robert Taylor from the U.S. Forest Service’s Santa Lucia Ranger District.

Primarily focused on fire suppression operations both locally and across the state, Taylor also worked to repair the land following fires and keep miles of forest roads maintained after inclement weather, Division Chief Nathan Rezeau said.

Through Taylor’s leadership, the agency will launch a bulldozer operator academy, which will debut in April, Rezeau said. 

Taylor also serves on a committee that makes recommendations regarding equipment and operating standards to improve safety across the U.S. Forest Service, Rezeau said. 

“He’s very actively involved for this very critical piece of equipment that serves on wildland fires,” Rezeau said.

Due to work, Taylor could not attend the awards banquet, so his son, Jacob, accepted the award.

“It’s definitely an honor to accept this awesome award for him,” Taylor said. “He keeps saying his job is just a blessing because he loves it so much.”

The Elks also hold a Law Enforcement Officers Appreciation Night each year. 

“It’s just so refreshing to have the Elks acknowledge us for what we do for the public, so thank you,” Rezeau added.

In addition to a plaque from the Elks, recipients received certificates from local lawmakers, presented by representatives of Congresswoman Lois Capps,, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian and Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam.

On hand to present their certificates were Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and Guadalupe Mayor John Lizalde.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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