This is the 56th article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni.
Tyler Estkowski ‘10 was “definitely a social butterfly in high school.” At M-A, Estkowski was part of M-A’s 12th and 6th Man, and was also a Boy Scout, where he received the Eagle Scout Award, the highest rank attainable. There, he discovered his passion for community service and being outdoors.
At M-A, Estkowski held his friendships and outdoor adventures very close to him. “Friends were incredibly important to me, the relationships I developed were unforgettable. I also loved everything from backpacking to fishing, whatever got me outside. There were a lot of local trails or beaches I would go to right after school because being under the sun was so important to me.”
As a 6th Man member, Estkowski recalled the group as loud and obnoxious. “The whole experience was so much fun,” he said. “People wrote about the 6th Man club because there was just an energy we brought that was unmatched by other schools.”
Estkowski joined the Cub Scouts when he was six years old, and continued to be a Boy Scout until he was 17. He received his Eagle Scout Award by doing a multitude of things, including a project of renovating the parkour equipment at Holbrook Palmer Park and redoing the walking pathways. “Boy Scouts is really founded on community service,” he said. “That is what helped me find out what I wanted to do professionally as well.”
Even though he had a love for service and being outdoors, Estkowsi struggled with the idea that college was the best pathway for him. He explained, “I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life. There were times I really excelled as a student and times where I really struggled. Being in that phase of your life can be really difficult and challenging when you have a lot of pressure put on you about what you want to do.”
Estkowski ended up going to Cañada College and majored in business management and economics while trying to find his way. Though he was still unsure what he wanted to do, he got into Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and transferred. However, he said, “I wasn’t passionate about what I was studying, and didn’t see how I could apply it to the general interests I had in life. It wasn’t really the path I wanted to take.”
He explained, “Unfortunately around here, your perception of success is really skewed by money and wealth. I put everything that I really wanted in my heart, and it all took a backseat to what I thought I needed to do. That’s where I really think I spiraled because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do to pursue a ‘successful career.’ I wasn’t passionate about that stuff, I was most passionate about being outside and helping people.”
One day, he was venting to his grandfather about what he wanted to pursue. His grandfather was the Fire Chief of Menlo Park, so he has always been very close to this line of work. He explained, “My grandpa was my hero when I was a kid. When I was venting to him, he told me about how everybody’s story is different and college isn’t going to be the same for each individual and that I should follow my heart. So I reevaluated my life, packed up my stuff to come home, and I took my first fire class in August of 2013.”
Estkowski started on the fire track career with an Intro to Emergency Services class. There, he saw Chief John K. Meyer from Central County Fire. “He walked in with a pressed uniform, shiny boots, slicked back hair, and just looked like the guy,” Estkowski said. “I saw him and thought, ‘I want to be that guy.’ From there, I just hit the ground running.”
On a ride-along in an EMT, after a crazy first call, he knew that this was what he wanted to do. He started with a Fire Cadetship, which teaches the “ins and outs” of the job. “You live with the fire crews once a week and train with them, and they hold you to a specific set of standards,” he said.
After that, he was hired as a volunteer with Coastside Fire in Half Moon Bay and worked there for three years. In 2018, he applied to work in the Menlo Park Fire Department, but didn’t end up starting until 2021 because of COVID delays. For his first year, he was on a probationary period, which is one year that is broken into four phases. He explained, “They test you on a multitude of things, and they’re basically teaching you how to live the life of a Menlo Park Firefighter. There are three men–the captain, the engineer paramedic, and the rider, who is the probationary firefighter. They are the ones going into the fire with the captain, and responding to everything. They can let you go for any reason.”
“It was very, very tough, and a lot of sacrifices were made from being home with my family. But it is the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is such an honor to be able to serve the community I grew up in.”
Now, he is currently the driver operator for his station’s fire engine and is trying to get into the paramedic phase and on the California Task Force team.
Estkowski’s advice to current M-A students: “Take the time to evaluate who you are, and do some real soul searching. Every path is going to be different from the next, so be true to yourself.”
Estkowski’s advice to students looking to go into firefighting: “Give me a call.”