Batavia honors Firefighter of the Year for 2023

Joe Zelek lauded for commitment to excellence

Batavia firefighter-paramedic Joe Zelek was named the Batavia Firefighter of the Year for 2023. He is seen here on Dec. 18, 2023 with his wife Kristen. (Mark Foster)

BATAVIA – Relentless training is the key to success for firefighters and paramedics when called on to save a life.

Firefighter-paramedic Joe Zelek of the Batavia Fire Department takes that constant training to heart.

“We’re always learning,” Zelek said. “We do something to learn every shift.”

Zelek’s dedication to his lifesaving craft has not gone unnoticed by his fire department colleagues who selected Zelek as the Batavia Firefighter of the Year for 2023.

Named for retired Batavia firefighter Randy Zies, the award is given by the Batavia Fire Department Benevolent Association.

Fire department Chief Craig Hanson and Mayor Jeff Schielke presented Zelek with the honor at the Dec. 18 Batavia City Council meeting.

“Joe provides superior patient care, is very professional with patients and family and demonstrates a commitment to excellence,” Hanson told the aldermen.

Hanson said Zelek works to train fire department recruits and sets a good example with his approach.

“Joe is always polite and courteous and has a great, positive attitude at work,” Hanson said.

Zelek, who joined the Batavia Fire Department in 2017, was grateful for the award and stressed the teamwork with his fellow firefighters.

“I’m really thankful and honored,” Zelek said.

The Batavia Fire Department Benevolent Association gave out several other awards for 2023.

The Eugene Duffy Award went to two groups.

The first award went to a team assisting a patient requiring intervention from a mobile stroke unit. The group included paramedics Shay Klinger and Margo Malek, firefighter-paramedic Rich MacDonald and firefighter Nicholas Dean.

The second group receiving the award provided lifesaving measures to a suicidal patient. That group included Battalion Chief Shawn Stephens, Lt. Scott Stephens, firefighter-paramedics John Najdzion and Derek Heisler and paramedics Bianca Guzaldo and Natalie Sandoval.

The Wayne Stevens EMS Performance Award went to firefighter-paramedic Chris Lafleur for lifesaving measures delivered to an unresponsive elderly person.

When phone notification was sent to department members, Lafleur realized the call for assistance was close to his house. He ran over to the patient’s house and initiated CPR while crews were on the way. The patient made a full recovery.

Finally, the benevolent association recognized the “run of the year” in which a crew administered lifesaving measures to a child who was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle and critically injured. The patient is recovering at home.

The team receiving the award included Deputy Chief John Lucas, Lt. Casey Balsitis, firefighter-paramedics Ben Williams, Charles Tragas, Derek Heisler and Daniel Johnston, along with paramedics Ashlee Hostetler and Margo Malek.