|Drew Kostal has been honored as the Vacaville Firefighter of the year.|
Photo Credit: (Rick Roach / The Reporter)
Kostal, who has spent the last 11 years with the Vacaville Fire Department, went on a ride-along with a Bay Area fire department as a freshman in high school, but at the time said it didn't stick.
"It was interesting but I wasn't totally engaged in it," he said. "I wasn't really sure that that's what I wanted to do then, I was enjoying high school and having fun."
He was still unsure about what the future held in store for him until after graduation. However, several years later, while taking an introductory firefighting class in college, he knew he had found his calling.
"I had a good instructor and learned a lot about what was expected and everything the job entailed and went after it," he said.
Kostal said he was drawn to the promise of brotherhood and the satisfaction of giving back to and helping the community and those in need of what the fire service affords.
The first in his family to pursue a firefighting career, Kostal received his associates degree in fire science from Chabot College in Hayward and worked as a volunteered with the Alameda County Fire Department and was later hired as a courier and a hydrant inspector.
Now, five months into his reign as the Vacaville Fire Department's Firefighter of the Year, it appears that his calling has paid off.
Kostal was awarded the honor by a jury of his peers at the department's annual awards ceremony in January -- something he said came as a complete surprise.
"It's an honor and, you know, all the members work as hard or harder than I do so I was very surprised that I was selected to get it," he said. "Everybody comes to work and does their job and does it to the best of their ability."
He joined the Vacaville Fire Department in March 2001 and hasn't looked back.
"The biggest thing," Kostal said, "is that you never know what's coming. ... You go to different scenes, you see different things, you get to talk to different people and there's a variety. I couldn't handle coming to work and sitting behind a desk and clicking a keyboard. It doesn't work for me or my personality, I want to be engaged and do things, I want to be active."
That mix, Kostal said, along with the people that he works with, is what makes his job rewarding.
"I have no desire to do anything else," he said. "I've got another 20 years to go and then I'll be done. But I think variety is the key."
In addition to his typical duties, Kostal is a swift water rescue technician on the swift water rescue team and a member of the department's honor/color guard, as well as serving as the union representative dealing with labor and personnel issues.
"The thing is, we have a good relationship with our chief and all of that, so we're able to work things out pretty easily," he said. "It's just basically to kind of combine our heads with the battalion chief or the division chief, whoever's making the rules to make sure that all of the policies are followed."
Kostal also developed an interest in Solano County's Hazmat Team. Six weeks and 240 training hours later, Kostal was certified as a hazmat specialist, and, along with other firefighters from across the county, assists in incidents involving the spill or release of hazardous materials.
Although Kostal said there isn't a high volume of hazmat-related calls, "the ones that we do have can be really significant, so the training is imperative and having a team together that knows what they're doing is very important."
The son of a construction worker and nurse, firefighting has taught Kostal that "any experience that you have in life can be applied to the job," whether you are building, serving in a restaurant or working as a courier.
In addition to work, Kostal has his hands full raising his two children, 6-year-old Taylor and 4-year-old Blake, along with his wife, Jennifer.
At the end of the day, it is the camaraderie with his fellow firefighters coupled with the ability to somehow help make someone's bad day a little easier that drive Kostal to succeed.
"You are helping people and it's cool, so we get that benefit and we get that joy out of knowing that we did our best to make someone's situation better," he said.
Source: The Reporter - Article Link