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Cottage Grove firefighters fueled by desire to serve

David Quebodeaux (left) was named Firefighter of the Year for 2012 and Cottage Grove Fire Capt. Kevin Zittel received the Liberty Mutual Community Service Fire Mark of the Year award. Bulletin photo by Judy Spooner

Kevin Zittel and David Quebodeaux see firefighting as the ultimate puzzle. In an instant, a puzzle solution must be found in order to bring order out of chaos.

"We're also adrenaline junkies," Quebodeaux said in an interview.

Both men, who are emergency medical technicians in addition to being volunteer firefighters for the Cottage Grove Fire Department, were honored earlier this year for their work.

Quebodeaux, who works full-time as a captain in the Richfield Fire Department, was named Cottage Grove Firefighter of the Year for 2012 and received his honor from Fire Chief Rick Redenius.

For his effort to educate the public about fire prevention, Zittel received the Community Service Fire Mark of the Year award from Liberty Mutual insurance.

Zittel, who works full-time for Cottage Grove Public Works, said it's important for the public to realize that the city has a volunteer fire department and all of the volunteers have full-time jobs.

"We're also husbands and dads," Zittel said. "On top of that, we come here."

Families have to get used to their firefighters being called in the middle of the night, from birthday parties and on holidays, the two men said.

Zittel, a Park High School grad who grew up in the city, will have been a firefighter for 20 years this fall. He was interested "in the ambulance side" but ended up more interested in being a firefighter.

"I was beside myself," he said, about getting the award. "It's huge for me to be recognized by my department, and even more exciting to be recognized by an outside company. I'm not used to being thanked."

Quebodeaux said Zittel is the "department guru" when it comes to educating the public.

Quebodeaux joined the department because he wanted to be more involved in the basics of firefighting as opposed to supervising in his Richfield job.

Everything a firefighter does is based on knowing when the benefit is worth the risk.

"We draw from every experience," Quebodeaux said.

A "can do" attitude is very important, he said, in addition to being a Type A personality.

Being part of the department means constant training and then more training, because during a fire, firefighters are almost in a military situation.

"You learn what the others around you can do," Zittel said.

Being together with other volunteers creates social situations as well. The other members know the sacrifices their families make and that dangerous situations can be life-threatening.

As a captain, Zittel is happy where he's at in the department. As a volunteer firefighter keeping his basic skills sharp, Quebodeaux is also enjoying the time he spends away from his job.

In addition to the honors bestowed on David Quebodeaux and Kevin Zittel, other Cottage Grove firefighters were also recognized for 2012 service.

Michael Gabrielli and Derick Peterson received honorable mention firefighter of the year.

Matthew Dahlquist received a letter of commendation for the time and money-saving effort he put in on the purchase of a new ambulance.

Deputy Chief P.J. McMahon, Robert Bray, Gabrielli and Devon Radke received letters of recognition for their quick response and actions on a serious medical incident in St. Paul Park.

The following also received letters of recognition: Captains Scott Smith, David Spiess and Randy Gerlach; lieutenants Patrick Joyce, Travis Place and Ryan Spiess; engineers Scott Huppert and Anthony Rich; and firefighters Michael Dandl, Michael McCoy and Gabrielli.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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