Zach Kesler, A Community Hero

Kylie Kesler

July 10th 1982, in Chicago Illinois, Frederick (Zach) Kesler was born. His parents Kathleen Snodgrass and Christopher Kesler had moved to Chicago for work related matters but had previously lived in Utah for their entire lives. Within the first year of his life, his family made the move across the midwest back to Utah. Zach started high school here at Copper Hills in 1997 and graduated in the spring of 2000. He participated in sports his senior year and was on the football team. From as early as he could remember, Zach wanted to be a firefighter. He wanted to be able to serve his community and be able to help others. 


As a young adult he worked many jobs before pursuing his life goal, to be an EMT/firefighter. He’s worked in ski shops, Zuka Juice (now known as Jamba Juice), framing houses, UPS, and then decided to join the military. “I’ve always thought about serving in the military growing up. My grandpa had been a marine and served in World War ll, but I knew very little details about that. He is the only person that I know that has served in my family,” Zach expressed his interests in war documentaries and how he’s always been a history buff. Once he became an adult, he explained how he felt it was his duty or there was some sort of obligation to put forth a certain amount of effort on his behalf for his country and those who came before him. 

Kylie Kesler

In 2001, right out of high school, Zach married his current wife Nichole and they had two children together; Kylie, born in 2004 and Carter, born in 2008. At the very start of their marriage, 9/11 happened. Immediately he knew the country was going to be involved in some kind of war, and if our country was going to be involved, he wanted to play a part in it no matter what. He joined the Army Reserve. Joining the Army, specifically as a flight medic, gave Zach some sort of hope that it would help him achieve his lifetime career goal of becoming a firefighter. 


Zach expressed the mental and physical demands of having two very important and time consuming jobs that both had to do with being a first responder. “When I joined, it was very demanding on my family. At the time my family was only my wife. I had no kids yet, and I had to leave my wife for seven months for basic training.” Zach also revealed that being apart from his loved ones, especially being a newlywed who just bought a house, was the first real test as to how hard this could be in the long run. Once he returned home from basic training, it was finally time to start to work towards also becoming a firefighter which was his goal all along. Kesler indicated that achieving his goal of getting a firefighter job was the thing that would finally offer him security. A week before his oldest child was born, he was offered his first full time firefighting job. “As soon as I accepted that job offer, I was so relieved and so much stress was finally off of me, I knew I could support my family confidently now.” 


In his “civilian life” outside of the Army , he had been working as a firefighter for a couple years at that point, he got word that he was being deployed to go to war in Afghanistan. After eight years in the Army, he was finally sent off. Zach explained that he wanted to go and help in Afghanistan and do his part to contribute. “I was looking for it, I wanted to go to war and help as many people as I could, and do what I was trained to do.” 


Zach’s job in the Army, with all of his training and preparation, was to treat people who were hurt and wounded. But there is always the consideration and realization that they have to do their job in a war zone. “Everyone in a war zone is at risk, some people are at higher risk. I treat those who risk it all. I never felt like I risked my life compared to what others had done because those people are the reason I was there. I was gladly willing to take the risk for them.” 


When it came to leaving his family to go serve his country for years at a time, it was hard. The first deployment he was gone for nearly a year. He got to come home for 18 months and then was back to Afghanistan for another year leaving his wife and two young kids. The hardest part for Zach was not being able to be there for those big milestones in his children’s adolescence and not being there to help his wife. “You’re missing out on a lot, you’re either there or you’re not. And those one time only things like learning how to walk or talk, you just hope a video will get sent to you so you can see that. It’s tough.” It was hard for Zach not to be there for his kids and give them a father figure in those first few years of their lives and help raise them alongside his wife.  


Zach struggled to stay motivated while being away from home and your loved ones. “Everyone just wants to go home, but you also consider the mission and your job and what you’re there to do.” Ultimately it came down to Zach reassuring himself that he’s there to do something noble and honorable while serving for his country, “I am there to bring our war fighters home and they are risking their lives.” Zach expressed that being away from family is just as big of a fight mentally than the physical fight that they’re away for. “I’m away for a reason.” While deployed his job was to treat combat casualties, help treat U.S. military personnel, and anyone that is a part of NATO such as British, Polish, and German troops for example. He helped Afghani army and police who were also injured. Especially local civilians that happened to be in the crossfire, even helping people who were injured on the opposing side, patients who were in the Taliban and Al-Qaeda as well.


When it came to coming back home and trying to adjust to everyday suburban life after being in a war zone for periods of time, it was a struggle for Zach. “It’s busy, and it’s hectic compared to deployed life, which was relatively easy.” Zach had one focus and one focus only, to save lives and treat patients. At times it’d get slow in the base because if there were no patients, there was no work to be done. Even now, eight years later, he still finds himself not being able to quite adjust to regular life. When one serves in the military you are exposed to different types of traumas than those civilians you are treating. This most of the time may and does lead to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Unfortunately, Zach does suffer from PTSD from the Military and from being a firefighter. “Not all Veterans find they have PTSD symptoms even 50 or more years after their wartime experience. Some symptoms of PTSD include having nightmares or feeling like you are reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, being easily startled, and loss of interest in activities,” states the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Kylie Kesler

Now, it’s easier and more accessible for war veterans to go and seek help than ever. Support groups (in person and online) and personal therapists that specialize in that area are always available when needed. Although it is hard for most veterans to admit they need help, it’s important for them to know help is available. 


It’s hard for first responders to seek help or even admit they need help most of the time. 

Over his 20 years of being in the army and being a firefighter, Zach Kesler has been awarded and has received more than a couple dozen medals/awards for his service and going above and beyond in his work. He just got word a few months ago that he will be receiving an MSM (Meritorious Service Medal) award, which is a prestigious award he has worked for for years. As of 2020 he was awarded Utah’s firefighter of the year, and in the mix of all of that Zach had been sent to Texas to help during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. He received numerous awards for his help, and also had gone to California to help with wildfires and received two more awards from that mission that he is very proud of. 


As of August 2022, Zach has retired from the active duty military with 20 years of service. He is still currently a firefighter for West Jordan and is the active captain for his station. He likes to consider himself a hometown hero. “It’s not just about going to war, it’s about protecting civilians,” Zach explained.  Frederick Kesler has been mentioned numerous times in the Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News, as well as KSL for what he does for the Salt Lake community.