Top firefighter in Contra Costa County blessed that ‘job found me’

Top firefighter in Contra Costa County blessed that ‘job found me’

Top firefighter in Contra Costa County blessed that ‘job found me’
Kiwanis Firefighter of the Year, Capt. Josh Andrews, joined Concord’s Station 6 a year and a half ago. (David Scholz photo)

CONCORD, CA (July 1, 2024) — As a youth, Capt. Josh Andrews came to a career crossroads. Well more than two decades later, the vocation he chose to pursue has resulted in an unforgettable life as a member of the firefighting fraternity.

He’s the latest honoree of the Kiwanis Club of Concord’s Contra Costa County Firefighter of the Year, now in its third year.

While Andrews has warmed up to being honored, it initially made him feel uncomfortable.

“I don’t think we do our job for the recognition,” he said of being “the accolades guy.”

“We do it for the guys and gals we work with on a regular basis. It’s a family, and you live with these guys for two or three days at time,” he said, adding that he appreciates the award’s intention.

Up close and personal

The job, he noted, is about service to others and you have to learn how to interact with the public. Likewise, it a job involving some of the most intimate moments of someone’s life, whether it has been informing someone on the side of the road or outside a residence that their loved one has died or helping bring a new life into the world. Andrews has done both.

“The intimacy of this job and how you spend the time with people you work with and the people you serve have made for some of the most rewarding times of my life,” he said.

However, another unfortunate reality of this vocation is the hardship that lands on loved ones, namely his wife and three daughters.

“This job can cause imbalance in your life,” he said. “So it’s my family members who are the recipients of a lot of that imbalance.”

In accepting the job, warts and all, and this honor, Andrews has come to view the whole package as a window into his world.

“It allows them to see what dedication and commitment will get you for all that you put into the job,” he said.

Early classroom opportunity

Andrews’ journey in the firefighting profession began as a teenager in a firehouse in Laytonville, located about halfway between Leggett and Willits, along 101 in Northern California. His time at Laytonville’s volunteer fire department was part of a community classroom activity that allowed high schoolers to go into a local business for an hour a week to learn about different occupations.

With only a few options in that small town, the fire department turned out to be fortuitous as Andrews met Mark Robertson. That encounter would forever change the course of his life.

“He mentored the heck of out me, and he put opportunities in front of me,” Andrews said. “Hanging around the fire department, that kind of planted the seed.”

So at 18, Andrews volunteered with the department and has never looked back. He recalled working on a helicopter there for a season and later putting himself through paramedic school.

Leadership skills

Everything ultimately came full circle for Andrews when he asked Robertson to pin on his badge when he graduated from the Con Fire Academy in 2003.

“You work really hard to earn that,” said Andrews, who knows Robertson was a big influence and important role model in shaping that achievement.

“I was lucky that job found me,” Andrews added.

So is Greg Sawyer, a Con Fire battalion chief whose office is in Concord’s Station 6 where Andrews was assigned a year and half ago. Sawyer has known Andrews for a long time, as both rose through the ranks together.

“He’s a leader, and that is what I like about him the most,” said Sawyer. “He is not afraid to say what on his mind; he is direct, and he speaks the truth in a respectful way.”

Sawyer lauded Andrews for his style of attacking a problem rather than ignoring it or sweeping it under rug. “There is not an obstacle that he can’t overcome.”

Such was the case when it came to Station 6. Andrews recognized its visual deficiencies and the culture shift that it needed, and he wasted no time transforming the facility into a place worthy of its occupants.

Similarly, Sawyer recalled a training class where Andrews demonstrated his leadership by stepping in in a pinch and getting it on track.

“He took a class that was going to be a waste of everyone’s day, and he made it a worthwhile experience for everyone,” Sawyer said.

Now a mentor himself

That hands-on approach with fellow firefighters, subordinates and probationary firefighters further epitomizes that Andrews doesn’t just talk a good game.

“That empowers other crew members to train those new guys – teach them the skills so they can take over for him down the road,” Sawyer said.

“(Andrews) is just as tired as you are, but he is still going to provide maximum effort,” Sawyer added. “He is the model who you should model yourself after.”

True to his straightforward approach, Andrews is not one to sugarcoat it when writing a report about a member of the team. Where others might be afraid or too lazy to do what needs to be done, Sawyer said Andrews accomplishes the goal.

“If a probationary firefighter is doing a bad job, he will write a truthful review,” Sawyer said, noting that the person then has essential information to do the job right going forward.

Such straightforwardness applies to his involvement in recruiting the next generation of Con Fire personnel, ranging from interview prep for each one, setting up ride-alongs, ensuring the tests are accurate and relevant to what the agency is looking for in applicants, and holding Zoom meeting with new recruits and providing them with all the pertinent information they need to make a thoughtful and well-informed decision about if this vocation and department are right for them.

“That is strong leadership you can rely on,” Sawyer said.

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.