Joseph Castor jokingly tells his friends to call him Joseph, since, well, he “is no ordinary Joe.”
Just ask the Vallejo Fire Department.
Castor will end his career with the department on Saturday, wrapping up a nearly three-decade career of service with his retirement. The timing, says Castor, leaves him with no regrets.
“No man, it wasn’t a tough decision at all,” says Castor. “My heart and mind are in the right place. I’m glad I’m walking out on the two feet I walked in with. I’d rather retire a year too early than a year too late.”
Castor said he had been thinking about retiring since he turned 50. He is 55 now.
“I’m going to miss the opportunity to give back to the city and the community I grew up in, which is in the South Vallejo neighborhood of Beverly Hills,” Castor said. “Most of my career I’ve worked in either Station 26 in Glen Cove or Station 22 in South Vallejo. I’ve been on the job and seen people I grew up with.”
Castor went to John Davidson Elementary and Franklin Middle School before graduating from Hogan High School in 1983.
Although he spent nearly three decades as a firefighter, he almost spent his life with a different career. He worked on Mare Island as a pipe fitter until Mare Island closed down.
Castor said that at the time he was living across the street from Station 21 in Vallejo, when a co-worker at Mare Island told him, “Hey, the fire department is always hiring.”
“I went to Cal Maritime to take a test and I’m looking at all these people, taking the same test as me,” Castor said. “I thought I’d never get the job because so many people were taking the same test. I thought the odds were against me. But here I am, 29 years later still doing this and I am filled with gratitude.”
Castor was hired by the VFD in 1991 and was ranked number one in his class. He was later promoted to engineer in 1999. He has consistently been an active member with the department, serving on the apparatus committee for over 10 years, spending a few years working on the fire boat the Neptune, and servicing and maintaining all department flashlights. Vallejo firefighter Jason Welsh said Castor’s fire engine is always the cleanest and squared away.
“He is simply the best in all phases of fires/medicals — he performs with a calm excellence,” Welsh told the Times-Herald. “He worked with a servants mindset and heart as he ran calls in the community. He genuinely cared, I’ve see more than one tear fall and he’d hurt with our citizens.”
Don’t tell the young ones, but Castor also brought joy to the community over the years volunteering as Santa Claus at the Glen Cove house owned by Bob and Linda Taylor — known for having more lights than Las Vegas.
In 2018, Castor was named the Vallejo Firefighter of the Year by his peers.
“That was all based off the great, highly trained men and women I worked with,” Castor said. “They were super dedicated and I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without them.”
Castor said the job was often hard, especially in the last few years.
“It’s quite a dangerous job, especially the last few years,” Castor said. “We’ve been super active with about 14,500 calls this year. You go back a few years and it was around 10,000 calls a year. But you have to stay positive and see the light. You have to realize that not only do good times not last forever, bad times don’t last forever either.”
Athough he’s ready for retirement, Castor says he’s going to miss some things about the job.
“I loved how good of a job you did depended on the man or woman sitting next to you,” Castor said. “I loved that it was challenging and very competitive. I was OK with that.”
Welsh once again gave Castor more praise.
“He was an example of professionalism at the highest level with a caring heart that never forgot where he came from,” Welsh said. “I can imagine General Vallejo looking down and saying job well done my good and faithful servant.”