New chief hopes to increase number of volunteers on fire department
By Barbie Porter
Nathan Matejka was recently elected as the new fire chief for the Frazee Fire Department.
Matejka joined the department in 2004. He had deep respect for his aunt and uncle, who also served on a fire department in Ottertail, Minn.
“All my life I looked up to them,” he said. “It was always in my mind that after I graduated college, if I lived in a small town, I would join the fire department. When I moved back to Frazee it took a few years, but I applied.”
The 1992 Frazee High School graduate married a 1991 FHS graduate (Becky Matejka). She was the one who saw an ad in the paper about the fire department seeking new members and encouraged him to chase his dream.
Matejka said times have changed as far as training and equipment from his early years on the fire department. He noted training is now online for probationary members, with a short stint of training required at Fort Ripley. Matejka was required to take extensive in-person training when he started out. Both are imperative for the firefighter to learn how to keep themselves and other firefighters safe in intense situations, while saving a life or structure with a lifetime of mementos.
The firefighter mentality has also changed, as knowledge has been gained regarding decreasing the impacts of health complications from fighting fires. Matejka recalled years ago the soot on the firefighter gear held pride of calls attended and a reminder of what was lost.
“Now, we know that can cause cancer so we wash our gear after every call,” he said, adding the department is up-to-date when it comes to being proactive in preventing health issues down the line.
Being part of the department also provided Matejka with a part of his life he thought he had lost. After ending his career with the National Guard, there was a vacancy from no longer being part of a team. He found the fire department filled that void.
“When put in highly stressful situations, you form bonds,” he said, noting he has been on many calls, from grass fires to structures to vehicle accidents. The one that has always stood out in his mind wasn’t the first call he went on, but rather the quickest call.
“There was a trailer house on the backside of the fire hall,” he said. “We got there quick, but it burned quick.”
Witnessing the unforgiving nature of fire has been no match to the reward of knowing he is providing a valuable service to the people in the city and surrounding townships. As he remained on the department and gained experience, he was assigned different duties and titles. Most recently Matejka has held the assistant chief position.
The leadership roles at the department are voted on by firefighter members. When Matejka learned former Chief Joe Nelson did not intend to run for re-election, he accepted the nomination for the chief position.
“I have always wanted to be where I was most useful,” he said.
Leading the department means defining goals. An early goal he sees as priority is adding members to the fire department. He explained there are 22 active members, with more set to retire.
Firefighters must be 18-years-old, but there is no limitation when it comes to a maximum age.
“There are many who join at 30 or older,” he said. “I was about that when I joined and felt my life was more stable and I was more mature. I wanted to invest in the community I lived in.”
Firefighters get paid a small stipend for time on scene ($10 per hour), as well as pension after year requirements are met. After five years there is a portion allotted to be paid after a firefighter retires and after 20 years the full amount would be given. Applications or further information can be picked up at the Frazee City Hall, 222 Main Ave W., Monday through Thursday between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
If someone cannot support the city and fire department by joining, consider donating an item to the spring silent auction. Matejka said the crew is just kickstarting that campaign, and all donations are appreciated. In the past, high bid items have included baskets filled with spirits, tool sets, vacation packages, cabin rentals (private or resort), tickets to professional sporting events and gift certificates to local businesses.
“All donations are welcomed and appreciated,” Matejka said. Anyone interested in donating an item can bring it to city hall or contact a firefighter.