When Five Cities Fire Authority Chief Steve Lieberman found out that Matthew Frank, whom he had only known as SLOStringer or Matt, had been killed in a car crash, he was stunned.
“Everyone’s shocked,” Lieberman said. “In a lot of ways, it’s like you lost one of your own. I think we lost one of our own.”
Lieberman recalled meeting Frank for the first time at a call for a fire alarm in Grover Beach about two years ago.
“I saw this guy with a safety vest and camera stuff and radio monitors and I went up and introduced myself,” Lieberman said. He recalled meeting Frank for coffee after that, where Frank ordered a hot chocolate and Lieberman asked the local photographer and news gatherer why he chose to cover breaking news.
“He said, ‘Because it needs to be done.’ That public safety doesn’t get a fair shake by many in the public and he wanted to set the record straight,” Lieberman said. He added that Frank was always respectful, never in the way of fire operations and was a talented photographer. He had recently been texting back and forth with Frank about a time for Frank to come to the fire station so Lieberman could purchase some of his images as decoration for the department.
Others in the law enforcement and first responder community remembered Frank as being great to work with and always respectful and pleasant.
“Everybody appreciated working with him,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Jordan Richards. “He was easy to get along with, very nice, very helpful. He provided the community with up-to-date information on what’s going on, road closures, any major instances, and for that he’ll be missed.”
Chris Elms, the public information officer for Cal Fire, said that he hadn’t known Frank for very long but that he was always courteous and pleasant.
“His goal was to always make sure the community was aware of what was going on,” Elms said. “He was very concerned for his community, and he took making sure his community was up-to-date on local issues seriously.”
Additionally, Cal Fire released a statement mourning Frank’s death.
“He was quite often the first reporter with breaking news around the county, providing details and pictures,” the statement read. “He was an advocate for public safety with a great deal of respect for the jobs performed by our firefighters and police officers.”
San Luis Obispo City Fire Chief Garrett Olson especially appreciated Frank’s skill as a photographer.
“Matt was a great storyteller about the mission of first responders in our region,” Olson said. “He distinguished himself by capturing incredible photos of law enforcement and firefighters serving our community. SLOStringer never manufactured drama to tell a story. Rather he captured dramatic photos that told the stories effectively on their own. Our community will miss him.”
“It’s just heartbreaking for someone so young,” Lieberman said. “The coverage he did and the way he did it, in such a nonpretentious manner, I’ve never met anyone like that.”
In addition to law enforcement, community members from all over SLO County and beyond mourned Frank on his SLOStringer Facebook page and on Twitter.