Although he was low man on the seniority list, former East Contra Costa Fire Protection District Firefighter and Oakley resident Tom LoCoco loved serving East County and being a part of the community both on and off duty.
Hired in Jan. 2009, LoCoco was 1 of 15 firefighters laid off July 1 after voters shot down Measure S which would have provided additional revenue to the District and saved three fire stations from closing. His primary station assignment was Bethel Island which he considered his second home.
He admitted that the last few days have been difficult each time he hears a siren or turns on a scanner.
“It’s killing me inside. I feel like I need to help them,” explained LoCoco. “Being local, I can go help backfill stations or cover the district when someone is committed on a fire. I just want to be out there helping my brothers and now I can’t.”
July 1 was like splitting up your family he explained. You have a couple of brothers and your very close and all of a sudden you don’t see them anymore. A lot of people put an emphasis on family and firefighters are a family—a brotherhood.
“I’ll miss the guys already. I miss my partner Aaron All who was the only one on Bethel Island with me. I spend a 1/3 of my life with the guy. He was my brother and best friend. All of a sudden, in an instant I don’t get to see him every day. I miss all my other co-workers on C-shift, even if I didn’t see them on shift, I know they had my back and could save my butt. I don’t have that support anymore so it’s difficult,” said LoCoco.
LoCoco is big on community which is why I was drawn to him for this story. He has a pure joy about community pride and firefighting. This dates back to his teenage years when on a family vacation when he ended up helping save his mother’s life.
The family was snorkeling about 500 ft. off shore in Hawaii when his mother had a massive heart attack. He quickly grabbed her and swam her all the way back to shore where he ran as fast as he could to the highway to flag down someone to call 911.
“One of the nurses asked me about it and she was impressed. I can remember her saying you sound like you would make a nice firefighter someday. Ever since that moment I knew it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to help people,” said LoCoco.
His parents were not supportive at first being that they were in education. They preferred he go to college. His parents convinced him to try the education route where he attended California State Monterey Bay.
“I wanted to do the fire thing out of high school, but my parents wanted me to pay my time in education and if I couldn’t find anything I liked, they would support me after. I knew pretty quickly I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk and wanted to still make a career in fire,” said LoCoco.
Once he left Monterey, it took him a year and a half (three attempts) to get into the fire academy where he finally got accepted Santa Maria, CA, While there, he also enrolled in the EMT academy.
After graduation, he worked part time for the City of Grover Beach, but after three years they consolidated which left him in code enforcement under the Fire Department. He then proceeded to test for 27-different Fire Departments and finally got hired by East County.
He joked that East County was not his 27th choice, but he was simply testing wherever the test was made available in hopes of landing a job. He explained that he loved East County and its where his grandparents lived. He explained he spent many summers visiting and knows the area well.
“I wasn’t picky when it came to getting a job,” said LoCoco. “I tested wherever they had the test. It was one of those things that was meant to be and could not ask for a better location. If you love what you do and where you are located, you never work a day in your life. I never worked a day of my life in East County. It wasn’t a job, I enjoyed what I do.”
Reflecting back on his time with ECCFPD, he explained one of his better moments occurred recently when he and Aaron All were on Stone Road and arrived to two homes fully enflamed and they were able to save the third home which was in harm’s way.
He also explained the feeling of CPR saves as a high note.
“Anytime we get a save on CPR it’s an awesome feeling. When you start CPR in the ambulance and by the time you arrive at the hospital and CPR has stopped (because you saved a life), it’s a great feeling. You brought someone back to life because they were essentially dead, it’s an awesome feeling,” said LoCoco.
His other high point during his time with the District was participating in the Every 15-Minute Program which explained the consequences of drunk driving in a real-life scenario.
One of his harder calls he dealt with was when he was on shift and heard his grandparents address come over the radio.
“I heard my grandparents address over radio. My grandmother had fallen with a skull fracture on the back of her head and succumbed to her injuries a couple days later,” said LoCoco. “That was very hard.”
He did try to find a positive spin stating that his job trained to do help his family deal with the family tragedy. He was able to ensure she was able to receive the best care possible while riding to the hospital with her.
LoCoco also has a soft spot for children as he says it’s never comfortable arriving on scene involving children.
“Whenever you deal with kids it’s the worst. You are so worried about them. It’s not seeing the kids that are hurt, it’s hearing a mom scream or siblings cry. A lot of the times we don’t know if they make it as we load the in the helicopter or ambulance. We don’t hear the outcome most of the time after they are transported. Kids are the hardest,” said LoCoco.
He explained it’s sometimes hard to determine boundaries with the job because we want to go follow up with the hospital or family, but we don’t want to invade a family’s privacy on a bad day. He said most firefighters do care and are appreciative of follow up information from an incident. They enjoy good news that a life was saved.
Gil Guerrero stated losing a firefighter like LoCoco to layoffs will be a difficult replacement when the time comes. LoCoco served under Guerrero as his Probationary Firefighter.
“He is a perfect civil public servant. He has the perfect makeup as he is humble, he is hardworking, he takes orders and direction very well, and he is always trying to better himself,” stated Guerrero. “It’s an extremely tough loss because we invested so much time and resources in his growth. From the time it took to fill out paperwork, review application, interviews, tests, station assignments. He knows so much about the district.”
Guerrero explained that LoCoco has been on some major incidents over the years and now someone has to come in (when funding improves) and they now have to replicate his ability which is hard to do because not everyone is the same.
Aaron All was direct in stating the District lost a great firefighter. He explained that LoCoco became local and embraced the area which says a lot about someone and shows their loyalty to those who he wants to help.
“The fact he and his wife moved up here and became part of the community was an amazing thing,” said All.
In terms of working with LoCoco, he stated he always knew what needed to be done and was an asset to the community as things never had to be explained more than once.
“I miss him a lot. My first tour without him, it felt like I was at the wrong station. It was my stuff and my locker, but it didn’t feel real without him by my side. This isn’t what is supposed to be happening. We had a great chemistry,” explained All.
For LoCoco, after being laid off he is left searching the unemployment ads and applying wherever he can. He stated he is circling around to previous jobs, networking, hoping to hear about the next opportunity to continue doing what he loves. Whatever comes his way he stated he is open to it in order to support his family.
“It’s depressing. I’m not sleeping at night, wondering how I am going to support my family, pay my mortgage. I feel abandoned and kicked down the road,” said LoCoco.
He explained that he is doing his best to plant roots in East County, but felt like the carpet was pulled out from under him as he takes great pride in his community.
“I’ve become part of the community I worked for. It’s not showing up and collecting a paycheck; I live here and contribute to the community. I love it here. I wholeheartedly believe in serving the community even when I am off duty, I am serving,” stated LoCoco.
With a passion for firefighting and community, one thing is blatantly obvious is that Oakley and the District just lost a major asset to the area.
For East County’s sake, we can only hope another local Fire District picks up LoCoco because he is the type of asset we want to keep in the area and do not want to lose as a contributor to the community.