Local firefighter, wins awards for photos
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – Captain Matt Gerber of the Green Bay Metro Fire Department is passionate about being a firefighter and photography.
Thanks to the support of the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, he has been able to bring those passions together for more than a decade.
His efforts also aren’t going unnoticed – winning awards for his photos through the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).
“As far as why (I take photos), that would be because of Aug. 13, 2006,” Gerber said. “That was the day Arnie Wolff died at a house fire on the east side of Green Bay, and we had so few photos of his career. There was a scramble to find photos for the memorial, media and funeral, and there just weren’t many. I wanted to help change that. I now have tens of thousands of photos and memories of the people who have worked here, and who have seen and done some incredible things.”
There were more than 250 entries in 13 categories – including communications, reporting, photography, social media and public relations – submitted for the 2019 IAFF media awards.
The contest recognizes reporting and photography which best portrays professional fire fighters and paramedics.
“This year I won the award for best photograph IAFF affiliate, social media/infographic,” Gerber said. “I submitted five photos from my website, fires and incidents occurring in 2018, and this (tinyurl.com/mattgerberaward) one was chosen. It’s pretty cool to know that others in your occupation like your work.”
His photo “Overhaul,” which captures a Green Bay firefighter wearing full personal protective equipment during overhaul operations, was chosen as the best photo published on social media/infographic.
Gerber has submitted photos in the past and has received numerous honorable mentions, and last year won in the Fire Service Photo category.
“Last year, after several years of honorable mentions, I won that category,” he said.
Gerber said he takes photos in two ways.
“First I go to some of our trainings and take pictures of those sessions,” Gerber said. “I’ve done recruit academy photos, as well as our other types of trainings.”
However, he said most of his action shots come from scanner chases.
“The main way I take photos is by listening to my scanner on my days off and going to actual incidents,” Gerber said. “I am granted pretty exclusive access that the media usually can’t get to. This is due to me being part of the department, having 25 years of experience, having the training and also having the situational awareness to know what’s up and what to watch out for.”
He said his experience allows him to capture photos of local heroes on the job, while at the same time remaining safe.
“An example would be the fire from this summer at CTS Transport,” Gerber said. “I know the sound of pressure relief valves letting loose and releasing gas. I could see things getting bad at this fire, but people with their cellphones kept moving toward the danger. I was moving back. I had to yell at people to move back, that there was a good possibility of an explosion.”
He said while taking photos is a hobby for him, receiving no compensation, the department is supportive, and in exchange for access, his photos are used for training and fire investigations.
“After most fires we do a PIA (post incident analysis), to go over lessons learned and what was done on the scene,” Gerber said. “If I took pics of the incident, I will give them to the chiefs to use in the PIA.”
He said his pictures also help with public education.
“Many people in the public just do not understand what both police and fire deal with on a day-to-day basis, in the streets and homes of Green Bay,” Gerber said. “The stereotype of playing cards all day is still out there, and I try and do what I can to dispel that myth. When I started in Green Bay in 1994, we were under 8,000 calls a year, probably more like 6,000. We are now at 14,000 calls and growing.”
He is also is no stranger to public service.
“I come from a family of police officers,” Gerber said. “My dad was an officer in Brown Deer and my uncle was an officer in west Milwaukee. Naturally, I was going to follow in their footsteps and become a cop.”
But he decided to go a different route of public service.
“I love what I do and love the people I work with and for,” Gerber said.
Before coming to the Green Bay department in 1994, he served with the New Berlin volunteer department for 3 years, Curtis Ambulance in Milwaukee for 1 1/2 years and the West Allis West Milwaukee fire intern program his senior year of high school.
He graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College with a degree in fire science.
Gerber currently serves as a captain of Station 3, on Shawano Avenue by West High School.
“My biggest passion as a captain is training,” he said. “During downtime, I think it’s important to hone our skills and stay sharp.”
Gerber said training keeps him proficient at his job.
“You never know what the next call will be, and when it will be,” he said. “I try and give back as much of myself as I can towards the job. Sometimes this job really gets to you. Bad. It can wear you down. I guess it’s what I was made for though, and I will continue to do the best that I can.”
In his free time, Gerber spends as much time with his wife of 25 years and their two daughters.
To see more of his photos, visit firstinphotos.smugmug.com.