ASHLAND – After a career spent chasing and investigating fires around the Omaha area, Ashland’s newest police officer is driving the speed limit around town.
Kevin Mandina joined the Ashland Police Department about two months ago. The 6 ft. 250-pound man with a big smile said he’s happy to be out in the field again. After working 56-hour weeks as one of only six fire captains in Omaha, he likes his 24 hours a week shift here.
While he said he misses the trust and comradery with fellow firefighters, he is adjusting to working with the small force of 10 officers in Ashland. In Omaha today, he said, there are about 650 members on the fire and police units.
Best of all, Ashland reminds him of Ralston where he grew up.
Growing up in Ralston, Mandina remembers whenever he would hear the sound of the fire siren wailing he would race to the window to watch the fire trucks screeching out of the engine house.
He was either six or eight years old when he decided to become a firefighter.
After graduating from Ralston High School in 1989, Mandina joined the Ralston Volunteer Fire unit.
“We were on call with pagers,” he said. “State instructors trained us by setting old house on fire. I loved all that.”
Then he moved to Omaha in 1994. When Mandina started his career there, few women were on the force so the engine houses had old style dormitory sleeping areas filled with men.
Mandina said that only one engine house downtown still uses the fire pole to get down to the fire trucks.
“Now we know that sliding down that pole is hard on everybody’s knees, hips and backs,” he said.
For 26 years, Mandina served with the Omaha Fire Department. For 15 years, he was stationed in North Omaha at 22nd and Florence Boulevard, one of the most sought after of the 26 territories for professional firefighters because it reportedly experienced the most activity, meaning the least downtime.
Most days, Engine 1 would make 10-15 “runs” – that’s a lot of fires to extinguish and investigate. To expand his skills and go into police work, Mandina graduated from the Omaha Police Training Academy. He is certified in Emergency Management Training and CPR.
Mandina said he was introduced to Joe Baudler, Ashland chief of police, at the Police Academy where Baudler was a coach and a trainer.
Baudler said Mandina brings a wealth of experience with him to his new position in Ashland.
“We’re very fortunate to have a guy like Kevin working for us,” Baudler said. “He’s doing great, and we’ve already had reports that he is super professional with the public.”
Baudler said Mandina’s experience working with fire, rescue and arson investigations are not only impressive but valuable skills.
To be ready to patrol the streets of Ashland and the surrounding area, Mandina was trained in using Tasers, handling driving under the influence cases, and working with patrol radar.
When he’s not on police duty, Mandina works as operator and owner of a carpet and upholstery cleaning business called Extreme Steam. In his free time, he likes to buy and sell old cars.
He and his wife Penny, who owns a hair salon in Omaha and likes to barrel race, have three children. Two kids are in college, Jesse at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Chaylea at Creighton University, and Trey is a freshman at Gretna High School.
“It’s fun to be back out on the job,” Mandina said. “I’m not a desk guy. I’d be bored and feel caged up in an office. I like being in the field.”