Capt. Tommy Kitahata, joined by LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas, was recognized as the 2020 Firefighter of the Year on Oct. 13 at the DoubleTree Hotel in Downtown Los ANgeles. (Photos courtesy LAFD)


Capt. Tommy Kitahata was honored on Oct. 13 as the 2020 Firefighter of the Year by the Los Angeles City Firefighter’s Association.

“It’s such a great honor. It was nice. The whole thing was a surprise for me,” Kitahata said, speaking to The Rafu Shimpo.

Kitahata, a 33-year veteran of the LAFD, was recognized for his hard work and dedication. He became a firefighter in 1988, quickly proving himself to be reliable and hard-working. He pursued the technical skills required to gain certification for the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), California Task Force One and deployed to numerous disasters across the country during his career.

Kitahata is one of the few remaining active LAFD members who went to the World Trade Center in New York City as part of the massive FEMA response to 9/11.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas presented the award to Kitahata at a banquet at the Double Tree Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

“He’s a guy that you can depend on every time. Everyone in LAFD shares this sentiment,” said David Ortiz, LAFD public information officer. “He’s a great example for our younger generations because of his work ethic. Tommy puts a lot of these younger people to shame, he goes and goes and goes. Whether working a brush fire or setting up a command post, he’ll go nonstop.”

Kitahata, a graduate of North High in Torrance, became involved with the Torrance Fire Department at a young age, finding peers and mentors among the firefighters.

He currently is stationed at Fire Station 69 and is also involved with USAR and swiftwater rescue. Recently he has been detailed to the COVID-19 unit, setting up testing and vaccinations for Los Angeles, including the mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium.

Tommy Kitahata’s technical skills include urban search and rescue and swiftwater rescue.

Kitahata’s leadership is valued by his community through his roles as an assistant scoutmaster (Boy Scouts of America), feeding homeless through his church and helping his neighbors during the 2018 wildfires. His passion for serving his community was instrumental in the successful opening of the Meadow Arts and Technology Elementary School, with those efforts being recognized and honored with the California Charter School Volunteer of the Year award, shared with his wife Cheryl.

Cheryl, along with daughter Lia and sons Bryce and Grant, attended the ceremony. Grant is a recent graduate of the Naval Officer Candidate School.

Kitahata said he would recommend a career in firefighting. “It is super rewarding. The camaraderie with the men and women of the LAFD is awesome. Just being able to work with the community, not necessarily on 911 calls, but doing stuff for the community helping with fire prevention, answering questions and educating on fire safety.”

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