Captain Brett Uchanski of the Town of Superior Fire Department earned the First Responder of the Year Award for the 73rd Assembly District at a ceremony in the Wisconsin State Capitol on Oct. 26.

This is the second year the State Assembly has honored first responders from across Wisconsin for the essential work they do.

“First Responders are the brave, dedicated and compassionate individuals that come to our rescue when we are most in need of assistance,” said 73rd District Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, who presented the award to Uchanski. “These heroes drop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to provide our families and neighbors with the support they need, often putting their own lives on the line to help others.”

The fire captain is the first Douglas County recipient to win the award. Milroy’s honoree in 2019 was Marie Bernatz of Burnett County, and the awards were not given out in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uchanski was nominated by Town of Superior Fire Chief Darryl Fiegle.

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“From the day he started on the department in 2015, Brett Uchanski has shown a passion for the work and community,” Fiegle said in the nomination. “He leads by example.”

Uchanski earned the rank of captain after three years with the department and has been awarded top responder for EMS and fire calls in two of the past four years. The department responds to 150 calls a year, on average, and Uchanski has responded to 60% of the total calls annually.

The award recognizes the fire captain’s countless hours of service and sacrifice for the community, Milroy said.

“I think that this is a great way to honor and appreciate people who serve the community,” Fiegle said, although first responders seldom seek the recognition. ”Folks will shy away from the light and focus on the work needing to be done, and for some the accomplishment is often the reward. But the public needs to know what these people are doing and see what and why they do it.”

Uchanski and his family traveled to the State Capitol where he, along with nearly 100 other award recipients from across the state, were recognized in the Assembly Chambers.

"While I am the recipient of this year's award, I proudly share it with all the first responders who serve in the Twin Ports area. I am inspired daily by the dedication and selflessness they project while serving their community," Uchanski said.

Town of Superior Fire Department members are volunteers, Fiegle said. They don’t get a paycheck, they often have to pay for their own gas and they lose vacation time to respond to a call.

The reasons people become a first responder vary. For some, help from first responders during a traumatic experience sparks an interest in giving back. Others find excitement and fulfillment in answering the call to help.

For Fiegle, it was generational.

"My grandfather was a firefighter in Woodruff, Wisconsin. He would take me on calls and hang out in the fire hall while they trained,” Fiegle said. “It opened my eyes and gave me a passion for the fire service.”

He said the recognition from the awards may encourage first responders to stay by reigniting their passion to serve.