Topeka firefighter wins prestigious military award while deployed

A Topeka firefighter is receiving national recognition for his service to our community.

Firefighter Nicholas Tafanelli joined the Topeka Fire Department in 2019. Not only does Tafanelli serve the citizens of Topeka, but he’s also a guard member for the 190th Air Refueling Wing, which is based out of Forbes Field Air National Guard Base.

Tafanelli, a Staff Sgt. currently deployed in Kuwait, was recently recognized as one of the United Service Organization’s (USO) service members of the year. This award recognizes those who performed extraordinary acts of bravery that exemplify the values of the Armed Forces and the USO.

“We at the City of Topeka are extremely proud of Firefighter Tafanelli, and celebrate this incredible national recognition. Topeka is lucky to have such a dedicated public servant, and we look forward to welcoming him home after his deployment,” said Interim City Manager Bill Cochran.

Tafanelli received the award for saving countless lives with his Topeka Fire Department company, and for responding to 318 emergencies, including fires, medical calls, and car crashes.

“I’m very honored, but I don’t think I deserve it,” said Tafanelli. “Looking back, I just want to think that all of those calls we responded to made a small difference to those people.”

Tafanelli was also recognized for the weight-loss journey he underwent in order to be able to enlist as a firefighter in the Air Force.

“This award reinforces to everyone the level of commitment and dedication Nick has to himself, his community, and his country,” said Topeka Fire Chief Randy Phillips.

To read more about Tafanelli’s story, and the USO Service Member of the Year award, visit