Family members and colleagues of Mike Kreza, the Costa Mesa fire captain who died Monday after being struck by a vehicle while off duty, remembered him this week as an irreplaceable leader in the city fire department.
Kreza, 44, of Rancho Santa Margarita, died from injuries he suffered when hit by a van while riding his bicycle in Mission Viejo last Saturday. Firefighters say he was training to compete in a triathlon in Arizona.
The driver of the van, Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, is suspected of being under the influence of drugs and has been charged with murder.
“Mike was our protector, provider and rock,” Kreza’s wife, Shanna, said in a statement released Thursday by the Costa Mesa Fire and Rescue Department. The couple had three daughters: Kaylie, 11, Layla, 9, and Audrey, 7.
“Since the accident, the girls and I have been surrounded by Mike’s fire family and close family and friends who never left our side,” Shanna Kreza said. “The community’s strength, love and steady care has been a tremendous comfort and brought us a sense of calm, making us feel like Mike is still here with us. Their overwhelming concern and devotion reflects how much Mike meant to them and the impact he had on everyone he met.”
Colleagues described Mike Kreza, an 18-year veteran of Costa Mesa Fire and Rescue, as a leader and cherished personality.
“He was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet” and “always had a smile on his face,” said department spokesman Chris Coates.
“He was the guy everyone wanted to work with or for,” said Capt. Rob Gagne, president of the Costa Mesa Firefighters Assn. “He kept his crew trained and always had a positive attitude.”
His impact went beyond being a leader while on duty, Gagne said.
“He set the example for how to perform at work and at home,” Gagne said. “Firefighters love to come to work because we have an amazing job. But Mike loved to go home.
“Mike exemplified what it means to be a loving husband and father and he was solid as they come while performing his job.”
“Being a smaller department, we all know each other’s wives and kids. They grow up in the firehouse with us,” Gagne added. “Shanna and the kids always have been and always will be a part of our family.
“I promised Mike that I would take care of his family forever,” Gagne said, referring to a visit to Kreza while he was hospitalized after the crash.
Other members of the Costa Mesa Fire and Rescue community also have stepped in to support the captain’s family.
This week, “40 guys went over to their house and basically did an extreme makeover of their house and backyard,” Gagne said.
“We are devastated by this immense loss, but our firefighters and the Kreza family have found strength and heartfelt gratitude in the incredible amount of condolences, prayers and emotional and financial support from our community and beyond,” Fire Chief Dan Stefano said in a statement. “I could not be more proud of our entire team and our extended family who have stepped up for the Kreza family.”
The city and fire department have provided counseling services for firefighters and city employees, which “has helped immensely,” Gagne said.
Though the position of captain at Kreza’s home station, Fire Station 6 on Sakioka Drive, will have to be filled in time, Kreza will leave a lasting impression, Gagne said.
“He’s always going to be there,” he said. “He will never be replaced.”
A celebration of Kreza’s life is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 16 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest.
Because of limited space, the service will be open only to family members, friends, and fire, law enforcement and military personnel, officials said.
However, the service will be livestreamed for public viewing on the Costa Mesa Fire and Rescue Facebook page, facebook.com/CostaMesaFireDepartment.
The department asked that instead of flowers and gifts, donations be made to the following accounts established for the Kreza family: