Joetopia

SLOStringer carved out a unique spot between the media and public safety

Tiffany Edgerle, cousin of Matthew Frank sings “I Can Only Imagine” as a slideshow with images of Frank is shown during his memorial at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo.
Tiffany Edgerle, cousin of Matthew Frank sings “I Can Only Imagine” as a slideshow with images of Frank is shown during his memorial at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Not many people would roust themselves from a comfortable bed in the deepest dark of night to chase flames in the rain.

But on Tuesday, March 21, that’s just what Matthew Frank did, as he had so many times before in following a passion played out to the soundtrack of a police scanner.

The call came in, so out he went.

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Matt’s anonymous persona, SLOStringer, became every bit of a folk hero around San Luis Obispo County in recent years, borne of his response to countless distant, on- and off-hour emergencies of varying levels of intensity.

One day, a car chase. Another day, a neighborhood thief. Still another, a house fire.

Some things were minor. Other times, people died.

He proved his mettle early on by showing up and sharing — in photos and Facebook posts — to whoever would like and listen.

It was a winning formula, and he earned fans by the droves.

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Although he carried a camera and press pass, Matthew Frank didn’t have a genealogy in news-gathering.

In fact, he was proud to say he never attended a journalism class.

Rather, his parental line was in public safety, where he learned from his father, who was both a traffic engineer and a longtime member of the sheriff’s Aero Squadron.

So he naturally gravitated to the first responders, who worked the streets to keep people safe.

He introduced himself to local chiefs, met them for coffee (or hot chocolate in his case), even brought a group of tired firefighters a batch of breakfast burritos one time.

He earned their respect, and that respect earned him trust.

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His father said Matt’s heyday came with the Chimney Fire last summer, when for two weeks he owned the information landscape, embedding himself in the story in a way other local media members couldn’t.

Over long nights, he stalked at the elbow of firefighters as the oak canopies burst into flames. By day, he answered the pleas of evacuated homeowners to retrieve medications or feed left-behind pets.

The public devoured his updates, as voraciously as the flames did the land.

On the whole, he had found and seized his moment.

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Matt Frank realized that news consumers have high expectations and hearty appetites. In many ways, they expect from us the same reliability and urgency they do from police and fire departments. In his case, oftentimes, they came to expect even more.

Be trustworthy.

Be relentless.

Be on duty, all the time.

Don’t be disconnected.

Don’t delay.

Don’t be dispassionate.

In the unnamed SLOStringer, many local residents found all of these qualities, and they showered him with their appreciation.

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On that Tuesday morning, a few people posted requests for information to SLOStringer’s page, wondering about the wreckage of an overnight crash on Highway 101.

What happened? Was it a fatal? Did he have any information?

For a while, there was silence.

But then, word spread of a bitter irony, first in a trickle, then in a flood.

When the information they were seeking arrived, it didn’t come from him, and that was the worst news of all.

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On Wednesday, Matt’s parents held a memorial for their only son, whose life ended far too soon.

First responders from throughout San Luis Obispo County and beyond showed up on the green hilltop at Mountainbrook Church under bright blue skies to pay their respects to a man they saw as a true kindred spirit.

Later, the crowd gathered at the Alex Madonna Expo Center to share their favorite SLOStringer stories, from the single mom whose young daughter wanted to marry him, to the many firefighters who wanted to thank him for making them look so good in their most difficult moments.

In the days since Matt’s death, many people have inundated his Facebook page to share their sadness and appreciation.

“This is why you were so amazing,” one wrote. “The story wasn’t your priority, WE were.”

At the moment, with his death still the kind of shock that alternates between real and unreal, it’s likely insufficient consolation to Steven and Jacquelyn Frank to say Matt died doing what he loved.

Perhaps it’s more consolation for them to hear so many say they loved how he lived.

Friends and family of SLOStringer, as well as members of the community, gathered Wednesday, March 29, 2017, at Mountainbrook Church in San Luis Obispo to celebrate the life of and to share stories about Matthew Frank. Frank, 30, died in a car crash.

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