Jerry Kozak moved to Home over two years ago, 16 years after he fled Poland behind the Berlin Wall. “I ran away from Communism,” he says quietly. “I wanted freedom.”
That long, dangerous journey brought him to the East Coast. Shortly thereafter, while visiting friends in Washington, he discovered the trees and rolling hills reminiscent of Poland; he was comfortable here.
“I’m still learning new words,” he says. “When I lived on the East Coast, accents were difficult.”
He knows people listen close, weaving through his Polish accent; he speaks thoughtfully, choosing words with care.
Soon after moving, he saw an ad for firefighter volunteers. A professional firefighter in a large Polish city many years ago, he “was surely missing the fire service.”
Forty years old, and keenly aware he was both “an outsider and a foreigner,” he decided, “I’m going to try.” He passed rigorous testing, becoming a volunteer at Station 3 in Home in August 2004. Living close to the station, he serves his adopted community when his pager sounds. This year, he has participated in every fire except one.
Kozak has owned an auto repair shop in Federal Way for many years. Briefly, he commuted from Sequim after their Twin Lakes house quickly sold. That was before he saw an online ad for their residence in Home, a place he had never heard of. Here on the peninsula, he and his wife, Paula, fell in love with a fixer on eight wooded acres of quiet and birdsong. They are “never going to move from that house,” he says.
“Firefighting is serious business. We are lucky to have good officers in our department who know what they’re doing. Confidence in the eyes of another — 100 percent — to do the task (is necessary)” he says. “If you have the heart, and want to do this, (there is a place for more volunteers).”
Fire District 16 Division Chief Chuck West says, “Jerry has definitely made an impression on us. Everybody’s impressed with his abilities — although he’s kind of hard to understand… He’s definitely on our current hiring list.”
Kozak says, “For everybody — I appreciate the warm welcome when we moved here. I’d like to say thank you to everyone.”