Six New Firefighters Join Payson Team

A federal grant let the Payson Fire Department hire six new firefighters recently, including Sean Minniss, Patrick “Coty” Chester, Jay Nelson, Brandon LaBonte’, Thorry Smith and Wyatt Bramble (not pictured).

Photo by Alexis Bechman. |

A federal grant let the Payson Fire Department hire six new firefighters recently, including Sean Minniss, Patrick “Coty” Chester, Jay Nelson, Brandon LaBonte’, Thorry Smith and Wyatt Bramble (not pictured).


You can’t wipe the smiles off Payson Fire Department’s newest firefighters.

While their full-time status is new, these men have been hanging around the town’s firehouses for years, as reserves, hoping one day to land a coveted spot on the team.

When the town got a $784,600 federal grant in July, that dream seemed a little more plausible.

Payson is only the second Arizona fire department to receive a Staffing For Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) grant. In May, Hellsgate Fire in Star Valley got $607,000 through the same grant.

Both departments are using the money to hire firefighters and retain staff.

At Payson, it was enough money to hire six new firefighters, bringing the full-time firefighter count to 30, said Fire Chief Marty deMasi.

Within weeks, the fire department held an open testing and by September had hired on two of its reserves, Brandon LaBonte’ and Patrick “Coty” Chester.

LaBonte’ put in six years as a reserve with hopes his hometown fire department would one day hire him.

He said he is thrilled to live and work in the place he grew up and where he plans to start his own family.

“I am so excited to come to work every day and I can’t think of anything else I would rather do,” he said.

Chester agreed.

“I get a distinct sense of satisfaction and fulfillment out of this line of work and find it to be the best job in the world,” he said.

In a second testing, 37 applicants turned out for the remaining four spots and again, it was Payson’s own that took it home, deMasi said.

Wyatt Bramble, Sean Minniss, Thorry Smith and Jay Nelson are the newest former reserves.

The only thing that kills their smile is talk of what happens when the grant runs out in two years.

deMasi said the town of course wants to keep the men on, but it is too early to tell how that will happen.

Wyatt Bramble

Certifications: AAS Paramedicine, Firefighter I & II, ACLS and PALS Instructor.

Experience: Worked with Payson Fire intermittently since 2002. Worked for the Forest Service for five years before working for Life Line Ambulance and volunteering for High Country Fire Rescue in Williams.

Why firefighting? I became a firefighter by accident. I tried it out and ended up loving public service.

Why Payson Fire? This is my home and I wanted to move back here to be with my family.

Brandon LaBonte’

Certifications: Arizona State Firefighter 2, advanced wildland firefighter, paramedic, 2012 CAC Paramedic of the Year, hazardous materials.

Experience: Hired as a reserve by PFD in October 2006.

Why firefighting? The job of a firefighter is very unique in the fact that you never know what you’re going to be doing when the tones go off, whether its responding to a medical call or fighting fire.

Why Payson Fire? I have lived in Payson for 18 years now and this is where my wife Sherah and I plan to raise our family.

Patrick “Coty” Chester   

Certifications: Firefighting I & II, paramedic, hazardous materials.

Experience: 2.5 years, reserve with Pine-Strawberry and Tonto Basin Fire Districts.

Why firefighting? I am compelled and intrigued by the lifestyle and duty of a firefighter. My father, Don Chester, was a firefighter/captain with the Pine-Strawberry Fire District for 20 years, up until his death in 2002. He is my greatest motivation as to why I became a firefighter and continue to pursue the career. 

Why Payson Fire? I have wanted to work for the Payson Fire Department since first pursuing a career in the fire service. I did a ride along with Lifestar Ambulance while getting my basic EMT certification and had the pleasure of working with Payson Fire. I was inspired by Captains Ret Connolly and Julie Swanson professionalism, talent and training. I felt compelled to become a member of that team. I was also born at the Payson Regional Medical Center and grew up in the Rim Country so I feel honored to work for the department that serves the community I live and grew up in. I love the Payson area and small town atmosphere and could not think of working any place else to be honest. 

Thorry Smith

Certifications: Firefighter I & II certifications earned through Gila Community College and Hellsgate Fire Department, attending paramedic school, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in wildlife science.

Experience: Volunteer with Beaver Valley Fire and Hellsgate Fire.

Why firefighting? I got my start in the fire service at the request of the Beaver Valley Fire District board, which was looking for a new board member. Not knowing much about fire service or the business, I agreed with caution. After a year and a half, I decided that I would prefer to be on the operations end. Beaver Valley Fire sponsored me through the local fire academy and EMT school. As my employment as a wildlife biologist ended, I began part-time work as a firefighter. This transition seemed natural enough as both careers involve critical thinking and are very physical, with plenty of opportunity to learn and provide a positive service. In 2011, I was picked up as a reserve with Payson Fire Department.

Why Payson Fire? Working for the Payson Fire Department provides me with a sense of professionalism, the ability to help those in need and plenty of opportunity to learn. Though I have lived in Arizona for more than 20 years, I wish I had grown up in a place like Payson. Being employed locally allows my son to be raised in the outdoors and grow from his experiences.

Jay Nelson

Certifications: Bachelor’s degree in American History, attending paramedic school.

Experience: 18 months, Avra Valley Fire District in Marana and Payson Fire.

Why firefighting? I grew up playing team sports. When I stopped playing baseball, fire service filled that void. Within a team dynamic is where I am most happy. I love being a part of a group and working towards a common goal, whether it is on a ball field or a fire ground.

Why Payson Fire? I was a reserve with Payson for almost a year before we received the SAFER grant. I was ecstatic when I heard I would be eligible to test. I know the department, the area and the town. It is a place where I knew I could be happy.

Sean Minniss

Certifications: Firefighting II, attending paramedic school.

Experience: 13 years in firefighting; Pine-Strawberry Fire District, White Mountain Lake Fire Department and Lifestar Ambulance.

Why firefighting? I feel I owe it to the public. At the age of two, the Mesa Fire Department saved me from a near drowning.

Why Payson Fire? I moved back to Payson two years ago after living away for eight years. I just missed the people.


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