He was the one they thought would be chief one day.
Hardworking and driven, with a knack for pushing others to excel, Orlando Fire Department District Chief Matthew Negedly had the qualities his brethren wanted in a leader.
“He was getting ready to become assistant chief,” his wife, Jill Negedly, said. “He always had a lot of goals and always tried to be the absolute best.”
He took on difficult assignments, flying to New York City “as soon as planes were back in the air” to help dig through the rubble after Sept. 11 and was the district chief assigned to Pulse the day after the June 12 shooting, his wife said.
Matthew’s brother, Steven Negedly, worked with him at the fire department as a lieutenant. Steven Negedly said his brother had his hands in everything; writing department policy, teaching at Seminole State College and lecturing at fire conferences across the country.
“He never quit anything,” Steven Negedly said. “That’s was so shocking about this.”
Matthew Negedly, 41, ended his life Nov. 29, leaving holes in the hearts and questions in the minds of his friends and family, including his 4-year-old twins, Brooke and Luke Negedly.
Firefighting brought Matthew and Jill Negedly together 19 years ago. She remembers the exact day — Aug. 1, 1997 — she first saw him, rappelling down from the rafters of the arena at an Orlando Predators game in firefighting gear during a special pregame show. Later, the man she described as “extremely silly” spotted her on the jumbo tron and tracked her down.
“He jumped out in the aisle and asked me to marry him,” Jill Negedly said. “Those were the first words he said to me.”
She did, too, after two years of dating. In 2012, their two children, who Jill Negedly said idolized her husband, filled their home with more love. In old pictures, diapered blue-eyed, blonde twins wear onesies emblazoned with the OFD symbol.
“He was so loyal, so devoted. He loved me and his family immensely,” Jill Negedly said.
The son of a volunteer firefighter himself, Matthew Negedly seemed to be passing the tradition down to his own son. When the district chief got home from work each day, Luke would run to put on his dad’s OFD shirt and helmet, which “swallowed him up,” Jill Negedly said.
“Luke is an absolute mini-Matthew and Brooke a mini-Jill,” his wife said. “Luke just wanted to be like Daddy.”
The family man used his famous determination to take care of his kin. When his father needed a bypass in 2004, he balanced his demanding work and home life to attend every appointment, Steven Negedly said.
“He made sure Dad got surgery. He really took care of people,” his brother said. “[Doctors] didn’t expect Dad to be going much longer. Now he’s still going strong.”
That spirit flowed into his work, colleague and OFD spokeswoman Ashley Papagni said.
During his 17-year tenure with the department, he got his masters degree in organizational management and rose through the ranks to administration. In 2008, he was named OFD firefighter of the year and later won awards for training and exemplary service.
This spring, she nominated him as a Florida Department of Health “public health hero” for his work. He implemented a policy for cleaning hazardous, cancer-causing substances off gear after fires.
“Chief Negedly cares about our community and demonstrates this by a proactive approach to health,” Papagni wrote in her nomination form. “Across the country, other fire departments look to our proactive health initiatives.”
His “biggest (professional) accomplishment,” she said, was founding the Orlando Fire Conference in 2005, bringing in firefighters from across the nation for classes and hands-on training on new tactics.
Matthew Negedly and his team had already opened registration for the 2017 OFC before he died. Now, the NFC founder’s friends and brother will conduct the conference without him.
The district chief didn’t just climb the ranks for himself, he drove others to achieve more until the end. Matthew Negedly saw the possibilities in others and often assigned firefighters to jobs that made them “uncomfortable” so they could grow, his brother said.
“He knows it’s going to be difficult [going on without him,]” Steven Negedly said. “Maybe this was his way of saying, ‘I’m done here, you guys take the torch from here.'”
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Matthew Negedly’s funeral will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Calvary Assembly of God in Winter Park with OFD Chaplain Ragan Vandergriff officiating, according to his obituary. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial donations to the Orlando Firefighters’ Benevolent Association, 4005 N. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32804.