Community matters to firefighter, law enforcement officer award recipients

By Tim Engstrom

Both Firefighter of the Year and Law Enforcement Officer of the Year are receiving their recognitions this year for their all-around community efforts.

Law Enforcement Officer of the Year

The Minnesota American Legion Law Enforcement Officer of the Year is a patrol sergeant with the Moorhead Police Department.

Scott Kostohryz
Scott Kostohryz

Scott Kostohryz received his law enforcement training at Alexandria Technical College, then received further education from Minnesota State University, Mankato, St. Cloud State University and Minnesota State University, Moorhead, completing his bachelor’s degree.

He started in 2004 with the Moorhead Police Department. He had been a Police Explorer in Mankato, and he was able to restart a Police Explorer post in Moorhead.

Over the years, he has served as a field training officer, SWAT team member and a detective. He presently leads the use-of-force instruction in areas of defensive tactics, Taser and mobile field force. He supervises the School Resource Officer Program and a patrol team.

As a patrol sergeant, he is responsible for a beat within the city, and he leads community-oriented policing efforts, including as liaison to the homeless.

He also leads the Police Athletics & Activities League, or PAL, which impacts 2,500 kids in the city through programs such as Shop with a Cop or kids playing hockey with officers or a summer bicycle giveaway.

Kostohryz has been married to his wife, Heather for 22 years, and they have three children: Carter, 19, Evan, 17, and Abby, 14.

They are active in sports and church. Carter presently is attending the U.S. Naval Academy.

On Jan. 8, 2009, a mail carrier reported a house fire. At the same time, Moorhead firefighters were occupied with a large structure fire. Icy roads and the other fire delayed the response.

“The front door was locked, but he found the back door open and announced his presence. There was no answer, but he observed the smoke-filled room and could make out a person’s legs visible through the smoke in a reclined position on the furniture,” according to a life-saving award he won.

The person was asleep and unaware of the fire. Kostohryz radioed dispatch and escorted the resident to safety.
On Feb. 18, 2012, he was the first to respond to a call at a railroad bridge. A woman called dispatch and threatened to jump onto the street below. Before she could climb over the safety rail, Kostohryz intervened by restraining her and getting her to a medical facility for treatment.

One day in 2013, an officer arrived at a scene before medical professionals and assumed CPR responsibilities for an adult man. He requested a defibrillator, and Kostohryz arrived and administered the shock and assisted with compressions. The medical team arrived and took over, and the man’s life was saved.

Kostohryz also has been honored for being a leader in drunken driving arrests and showing teenagers the perils of driving while impaired.

His nomination came with letters of recommendation from the Moorhead police chief, Clay County sheriff, Moorhead superintendent, MSU-Moorhead director of public safety and Moorhead High School principal.

Firefighter of the Year

The Minnesota American Legion Firefighter of the Year is a captain with the North Branch Fire Department.

Jason Russell has been with the department for 14 years, and he served 13 years prior in Wyoming, which is just south of North Branch.

With Wyoming, he served as an emergency medical technician, too, and was captain for four years. He was loaned at times to the U.S. Department of the Interior to fight wildfires and worked as a crew boss.

Opening his own business in North Branch — Russell’s Automotive, 36189 Forest Blvd. — led to him switching fire departments. He and his wife, Brooke, have three children: Lexi, 16, Aubrey, 13, and Asher, 11. The father volunteers for local sports. He has served as an adviser for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and as president of a local scholarship fund.

Russell enjoys hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, softball. He is involved in archery and trapshooting with his own children.

“Jason has been an invaluable leader sharing his knowledge and experience with younger members. At a time in their careers where many others would be slowing down, Jason has increased his time and commitment,” wrote North Branch Post 85 Commander K. Rick Hals.

The commander said Russell now spends time mentoring the next generation of firefighters.

Russell received life-saving awards from North Memorial as a Wyoming firefighter. In 2000, he received congressional recognition, too.

Both Russell and Kostohryz are slated to appear at the 104th Department Convention in Redwood Falls this month.

Also coming is the Eagle Scout of the Year, Jackson Kramer of Hutchinson. He was featured in the April 2023 issue of The Minnesota Legionnaire.His project was educating people how to retire flags.