Honoring excellence: Westfield Fire Department celebrates First Responders Day by recognizing service


On Oct. 28, National First Responders Day, the Westfield Fire Department 2023 Awards and Recognition Ceremony celebrated those inside and outside the department who have helped keep the Westfield Washington Township community safe over the past two years.

Mayor Andy Cook addressed the crowd of more than 200 at Prairie Waters Event Center.

“This fire department has been a large part of why I loved doing what I’ve been doing,” he said. “I am in awe to watch what you do under real circumstances.”

Cook said that when he became mayor in 2008, Westfield had “two trucks with two firefighters per truck.” Today, WFD has almost 100 staff members, and planning is underway for further growth.

“I hope you are as proud of Westfield as I am,” Cook said.

WFD Chief Rob Gaylor, Battalion Chiefs Jason Maners and Steve Moore, EMS Division Chief Patrick Hutchison and other leaders presented peer-nominated department awards.

“Leadership is hard,” Moore said. “Leadership in the fire service can be especially challenging. The ability to have influence not only to those new members who come in but also to their peers — leadership like this is what we need — positive leadership, positive influence and positive attitude.”

Among those recognized, Abigail Poynter received awards for both the Probationary Firefighter of the Year and EMT of the Year. Although she is not the first, Poynter is currently the only female firefighter employed by WFD. Peers describe her as “a model probationary firefighter” and a “prime example of leadership from the ground up.”

Tiffany Muehlbauer participated in the presentation of citation bars honoring Westfield firefighters and paramedics who played a part in saving her life when she was unresponsive for 21 minutes following a fall and cardiac arrest. Life Saving Bar recipients include Firefighter Paramedic Josh Sloma, Field Resource Paramedic Pamela Taylor, Division Chief of Planning Mark Sutphin, Battalion Chief of EMS Brandon Taylor, Lt. Brian Timme and Firefighter Paramedic Tate Vermeulen.

“I’m lucky to be one of the people who can stand up here and say thank you for what you do and for allowing me to celebrate my next birthday,” Muehlbauer said.

In addition to presenting awards and citations, WFD leaders acknowledged new personnel, promotions, years of service and retirees, as well as community and business partners.

Gemma Harnett received the Business Partner of the Year award on behalf of Meijer in Westfield.

“She and the Meijer staff throughout the year have helped us significantly,” said Peg Strass, operations and public information manager and event planner. “She’s always smiling, super friendly and hardworking. It’s usually the people behind the scenes that are making it happen.”

Gaylor presented WFD Merit Commission member Jeannine Fortier with the Citizen of the Year Award, describing her as someone who “selflessly serves the community” and “wholeheartedly supports the Westfield Fire Department.” The voluntary merit board meets on a quarterly basis to review all WFD personnel actions including hiring, promotions and disciplinary actions.

According to Strass, the WFD holds the ceremony every other year because it requires so much planning. She also expressed her gratitude to the event sponsors and donors.

“Whether it’s financial or in-kind donations, without them, we would not be able to have the ceremony,” she said.

For more, follow @westfieldfiredepartment on social media.

From left, firefighter Marques Reese, Meijer Store Director Chad Clark and Business Partner of the Year Gemma Harnett (Photo by Amy Adams)

Westfield Fire Department award winners

Probationary Firefighters of the Year:  Abigail Poynter and Josh Shrum

Firefighter of the Year:  Nick Rambo

Engineer of the Year: Nick Miller

EMT of the Year: Abigail Poynter

Paramedic of the year: Taylor DeBaun

Fire Officer of the Year: Kyle Howe

Community Awards

Valued Partner of the Year:  ProTeam Tactical Performance

Community Partners of the Year: Jeff Owens and the Kasey Program

Brett Lebo for Paddack’s Wrecker and Heavy Transport

Business Partner of the Year: Gemma Harnett, Meijer, Westfield

Municipal Partners of the Year: Lt. Billy Adams, Westfield Police Department

Streets Supervisor Justin Jones, Westfield Department of Public Works

Citizen of the Year: Jeannine Fortier, Merit Commission member

Tyler Hittle, Matt Hansen, Zach Abbott, Justin Austed and Justin “Jandy” Anderson at 2023 World Firefighter Challenge Championships (Photo courtesy of Westfield Fire Department)

Champion Firefighters

In the spring, when WFD team members attended the National Fire Department Instructors Conference at Indianapolis Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, as they do each year, Peg Strass got on the course with them.

“I got knocked down a couple of times,” Strass said, “but it was so amazing to see them put on their gear and complete this course.”

Strass stepped into her role as WFD operations and public information manager approximately three years ago and has since taken over the department’s social media.

“This was the first time anyone had covered the competition,” Strass said, “and it went viral.”

According to Strass, WFD team members won several awards, securing new times, setting records and receiving medals.

Then last month, five WFD firefighters competed at the 2023 World Firefighter Challenge Championship in Florida. WFD Firefighter Matt Hansen, who has been training and competing for 20 years, was named 2023 World Champion of the 45-49 Male Individual Category.

Hansen was recognized at the recent awards ceremony for 15 years of service and also received a Commendable Service of the Year distinction for “motivating other firefighters to become physically fit” and encouraging others to “work out daily and push past their physical limits.”

“(Hansen) is an example for our current firefighters and new firefighters,” Strass said. “The guys look up to him for everything in that regard.”