Kevin Woyjeck, 21

It was no surprise to the Los Angeles County firefighters who knew the family that Kevin Woyjeck dreamed of joining their ranks one day. After all, his father, Joe, is a nearly 30-year veteran of the department and helps run its museum, which restores old firefighting equipment. It was not unusual to see Captain Woyjeck’s young son at the firehouses around the Bellflower, Calif., area where he worked, and the elder Woyjeck would even take the boy out on calls with him.

“Kevin grew up at the fire station,” said Keith Mora, an inspector with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “He was this great kid. Very upbeat, enthusiastic, loved to joke. But he also had this very calm, professional demeanor.”

More than that, Mr. Mora said, Mr. Woyjeck was deeply motivated, joining a mentorship program at the department to sharpen his skills and even becoming a licensed emergency medical technician while he was still in high school. He wanted to “be the best of the best” — a quest that took him this fire season to Arizona, where he had found a crew of hotshots he thought were especially good.

“He wanted to be a part of it,” Mr. Mora said.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department does plenty of work on wildfires, so Mr. Woyjeck’s moving to Arizona was no surprise, though it was hard on his parents at first, Mr. Mora said. But at least Mr. Woyjeck was only a few hours’ drive from the firehouses where he had wandered as a boy. And the plan was that he would return to California an even stronger firefighter, just like his father.

“Their relationship was like best friends,” Mr. Mora said. “His dad loved him with all his heart and shared everything with him. He was extremely proud of his son — proud that his son wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

— DAN FROSCH
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Kevin Woyjeck