2016 Public Educator of the Year (Volunteer/Paid-On-Call)

Jeff Nylander, Town of Campbell Fire Department

Not too many years ago, the Town of Campbell Fire Department basically had no fire public education program. According to Fire Chief Nate Melby, Campbell F.D. relied on a neighboring department when it came time for Fire Prevention Week activities at the local elementary school.

But since Jeff Nylander stepped in about seven years ago, Town of Campbell’s program has become an active and progressive one that reaches more than 1,265 kids on an annual basis.

For his success in establishing an active and progressive program, Jeff received one of the 2016 Public Educator of the Year honors at the WSFIA Fire Prevention Specialist Conference at the Chula Vista Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

Appropriately enough, on the day he was honored Jeff had just finished the annual program at the local elementary school on French Island in La Crosse County, where he and his firefighter colleagues worked with about 185 students that day.

Jeff has been a member of the Town of Campbell Fire Dept. for 26 years. The Navy veteran has a background in electronics and as a maintenance manager for a grocery chain, but at age 40 he switched careers and became a special education teacher, which Melby notes helps Jeff relate to kids and tailor content to their age levels.

Chief Melby says that Jeff holds regular open houses for Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and the summer youth program at Olivet Church. In addition, department members conduct regular story times at the Campbell Library and help Santa deliver fire safety materials to kids during the annual Santa Run in the French Island community.

Jeff also disseminates fire safety education through the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.

Chief Melby notes that Jeff has been able to accomplish all of his pub ed duties while he has cared for his wife, Jeannie, who became blind due to a medical disorder. Melby noted that Jeff has been able to effectively juggle the needs of his family with his fire department work.

In fact, Jeff has been able to take his fire safety message to national and international audiences via web conferences and telephone conferences for an association of blind adults.

During his acceptance speech at the WSFIA annual banquet on Oct. 27, Jeff reflected on some of the satisfaction he has received through his work as a fire and safety public educator. One came during the recent school visits in his community. Jeff was able to note the pride teachers exerted while observing a Town of Campbell firefighter teach fire safety to students at the very school that firefighter attended from preschool all the way to 5th grade.

And Jeff spoke of an envelope of thank-you notes he received from youngsters after a classroom visit.

“One that was probably the most touching was from a young man who said ‘I took the information back (home), we looked at the fire and smoke alarms and they were out of date. So my dad’s gonn’a change them,’” Jeff recounted. “That’s all it took for me to see; just one of those (notes) and have that result come back that quick. That’s all I need.”