Frazee fire chief will remain on local department

By Barbie Porter


Contributed photo
Joe Nelson will remain on the fire department, but did not seek re-election as fire chief in Frazee.

Joe Nelson recently stepped down from his position as Frazee Fire Chief, but his legacy will be known for years to come.

During his tenure in the leadership role, the fire department brought home a new fire engine and outfitted it with all of the necessary tools, as well as upgraded the air system for the self-contained breathing apparatuses. The department faced COVID-19 restrictions and found ways to continue training and keep members as safe as possible to ensure there would be firefighters able to respond if necessary.

The rural Frazee resident said his decision to not run for re-election has to do with watching his young daughters (ages 9 and 11) grow up quickly. 

“My kids are only young once,” he said. “I noticed how quickly they are growing up and want to make the most out of this time. They are still at the age they want to hang out with their dad.”

Nelson said he is also planning more family vacations with his daughters and wife, Amanda. 

Nelson expressed gratitude for his wife’s support while he has served on the fire department. 

“I have to thank her for supporting and respecting my decision to do this job,” he said. “There were times I was out until 2 a.m. on a call, or had to leave the dinner table or couldn’t pick up our kids at practice … She’s been there every step of the way and I really appreciate that.

Nelson also wanted to thank the public for their support. 

“It’s amazing how a little community creates so much support for the fire department,” he said. “Thank you if you came down and got a pancake or donated money to be on the calendar or stopped in to say, ‘thank you.’ The city crew has been a great team and amazing to work with. I wish I had time in a day to thank everyone personally.”

Taking over the chief position for the fire department is Nathan Matejka. Nelson noted having Matejka put his hat in the election ring for chief made his decision easier not to run.

Nelson will continue to serve on the department.

“I’m glad I did it (served as chief), but life gets busy and it is time to close one chapter and start another.”  

Joe Nelson on being fire chief for the Frazee Fire Department

Nelson to continue service on fire department

Nelson joined the fire department in 2012. The road to becoming a full-fledged fireman required much training and a large time commitment for meetings and those unexpected calls to duty.

While there is a lot of giving that firefighters do, Nelson said it was a group he wanted to join for some time, and experience for himself. He had close friends who were on the fire department, and between the stories they shared and bond he saw they had with other firefighters, Nelson applied. He took the physical and psychological test required of all recruits and then completed training.

As he gained years of experience, Nelson was nominated for leadership roles. Before taking the helm of the department he served as Deputy Chief under the former chief, Albert Doll. 

While tradition has been for the assistant chief to replace the outgoing chief, Nelson said the assistant told the crew he would not accept a nomination for chief. Nelson’s peers opted to put his name into the mix and when elections rolled around and Nelson was named chief.

“There was a big learning curve,” Nelson said. “Albert (Doll) did a phenomenal job when he was chief. He put down stepping stones for the next guy in line, and I happened to be him.”

Nelson said the option to “lean on” past chiefs who still serve on the department was value beyond measure, as he knew he would be pointed in the right direction to do right by the fire department.

As a new chief, Nelson said he also relied on chiefs of neighboring fire departments that serve together on calls through a mutual aid contract. 

“They know when you’re green behind the ears and help,” he said, noting with the wisdom of past and current chiefs time allows each leader the ability to develop their own ways to operate and demonstrate their leadership abilities.

“Being chief you learn to be more flexible with time because there are more meetings and responsibilities that come with the title,” he said. “Even a small base fire department like Frazee has a lot of day-to-day needs. But, we have quite a crew to take care of all that and make sure we are ready for the next call.”

One of the more memorable calls Nelson has been on had to do with a cat. He explained growing up there are plenty of tales where firemen ascend past branches of an old tree to retrieve a cat that was brave enough to climb up, but not able to come down.

“I was actually on a call where we were to help a cat out of a tree,” Nelson recalled. “When the call came in, I was not prepared for that. I thought that only happened in children’s books.” 

The ladders on the fire truck weren’t the safest bet when ascending the 40-plus feet in the air that the feline found itself. Luckily, the department could count on local business, Frazee Electric, to provide a bucket truck.  

“By the end of the day the cat was saved,” Nelson said.

Any man or woman interested in joining the Frazee Fire Department are encouraged to fill out an application at city hall.