SACRAMENTO -- A former Livermore-Pleasanton fire captain lost his three-year battle with brain cancer Tuesday, eight months after he retired from the department and was named Firefighter of the Year.
Paul Chenkovich, 48, died at his Sacramento home about 9:15 a.m. under the care of UC Davis Hospice, Battalion Chief Joe Testa said. The 13-year veteran of the Livermore-Pleasanton fire department leaves behind a wife, Wendy, and two children, 8-year-old Ella and 15-year-old Alex, along with a department full of longtime colleagues.
"Our entire organization really thinks of Paul first and foremost as a good friend," Testa said. "The kind of guy that would do anything for you and expect nothing in return."
In July 2010, Chenkovich was diagnosed with brain cancer, leaving his family and colleagues stunned, Testa said. He underwent an aggressive series of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation before succumbing to the cancer three years after his diagnosis.
"He fought courageously when it was time to fight," Testa said. "But he was graceful in his passing, sharing a tear or a hug with those close to him right until his last days."
Chenkovich, who was named the Knights of Columbus 2013 Firefighter of the Year, was raised in Pleasanton and graduated from Foothill High School in 1984. He graduated from Shasta College with a degree in fire science in 1990, two years after he began his work in fire services with the U.S. Forest Service in 1988.
The 25-year firefighter began his career at the El Dorado Hills Fire Department, where he worked for 10 years before making the move to the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department in 2000, Testa said. It was there he rose through the ranks, being promoted from firefighter to fire engineer to fire captain in his first decade on the job.
Testa said Chenkovich worked tirelessly to improve firefighter and community safety, overseeing programs ensuring engines met performance standards, and teaching firefighters about the hazards of utilities and preventing injury on the job. He was also one of the founders of the Child Safety Seat program and heavily involved in the Every 15 Minutes program, educating high-school students about the alarming frequency of alcohol-related crashes.
But above all, Testa said, Chenkovich brought joy to everyone around him, and had an unparalleled sense of humor that put everyone at ease.
"He was the firefighter's firefighter," Testa said, "Be it on or off-duty, Paul was always a pleasure to be around, to laugh with. He could make fun of you, but he laughed equally as hard at himself."
Added Testa, "Paul was also a great firehouse cook, known for his chili verde. There was nothing too spicy for Paul -- each year he would jar a variety of hot peppers and then amaze his co-workers by eating them out of the jar, when the mere smell would cause most of our eyes to water."
Chenkovich prided himself in his athleticism, completing multiple marathons including the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Testa said. He loved playing soccer, woodworking and gardening, and relished his time spent with family and on road trips with his motorcycle club.
In addition to his wife and two children, Chenkovich is also survived by both of his parents, Robert and Alice Chenkovich, along with two brothers and two sisters, said Testa, who did not have immediate information about when and where services will be held.