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January 23, 2022

‘Firefighter’s Firefighter’ Awarded Top Honor at Zayante Fire

He did tours on the Dixie Fire to the north and the Estrada Fire in Watsonville and trained new recruits from around Santa Cruz County. For his efforts, Capt. John Amadeo has been named Firefighter of the Year at Zayante Fire Protection District, for 2021.

Chief Dan Walters said it’s a well-deserved honor.

“John’s been in the fire service for a long time,” he said, noting his experience at other agencies contributed useful lessons to their small mountain department. “It makes you a more valuable employee because you’ve got a different perspective.”

But Amadeo is a model firefighter not just because of his training, but due to his positive attitude, he added.

“He’s always smiling,” Walters said. “He’s never ‘down.’”

Amadeo works for Santa Cruz County’s sanitation department during the day, heading up to the fire hall in the afternoons.

Walters says he finds it honorable that Amadeo, who has two children, is committed to putting his wife through law school.

“He’s trying to make every dollar he can,” Walters said. “I give him a lot of props for that.”

But, Walters emphasizes, Amadeo is truly passionate about helping younger firefighters get their start in the service.

“He’s always happy to help people learn and train,” he said. “I have a lot of faith and trust in him.”

Reached by the Press Banner at his day job, Amadeo took time out of his busy day to reflect on the award.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said, noting while the department has seven or so new faces, there are at least 15 other people who are also deserving of such a distinction. “It feels great.”

Amadeo has been a firefighter since 1989 and joined the Zayante district in November 2020.

In addition to his day and night jobs, he also instructs at the Santa Cruz County Basic Firefighter Academy on Saturdays.

“I enjoy teaching. I enjoy passing on the knowledge,” he said as a garbage truck beeped in the background while it backed up to the county facility on River Street where he works.

“The highlight was going up and being at the academy and watching them graduate—and having the guys who graduated last year be full-time volunteers now,” he said. “It’s totally cool.”

Amadeo was promoted to the rank of Captain this summer and served as the engineer on the department’s voluntary two-week tour of duty fighting the Dixie Fire.

Chief Walters commended Amadeo for agreeing to help battle what would become the biggest non-complex fire in California’s history.

“You’re at the whim of the state,” Walters said. “Fortunately, he has a job that allows him to do that.”

Walters added that Amadeo is always in his “Top 10” list of responders to emergency calls.

“He’s never said ‘no,’” he said. “If I had 10 guys like him. I wouldn’t need the other 30. It takes a special type of person.”

Ryan Masters, a volunteer firefighter with the Zayante Fire Protection Department, says Amadeo is a “firefighter’s firefighter” who sets the tone for the rest of the team.

“His decades of experience and knowledge are only one aspect of what makes him so valuable to us,” he said. “He’s also a pretty incredible human being who inspires the whole department with his compassion and humor.

“Love that guy.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]


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