Posen fire chief stands on guard for 50 years

Raymond "Burke" Wozniak

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

For half a century, Raymond “Burke” Wozniak has dedicated his life to the residents of the Posen area.

That couldn’t have been more evident Sunday afternoon when a call came to his home about a 10-year-old Posen boy, who had handcuffs locked on one wrist with no key.

Burke met the father and boy at the fire hall and removed bolt cutters from a fire truck compartment and had them off in a few seconds.

It wasn’t a stereotypical fireman moment such as getting someone’s cat out of a tree, but it’s very much an example of the devotion the kind man of 71 has provided others for five decades.

Have there been cats to remove from trees? Of course. It’s part of the job. The easy part by far, because there are those low moments one tries to forget, but will never. He had been the fire chief for only two years in 1969 when a farmhouse caught fire and claimed the life of 10 people.

The news spread around the world and put the young leader under the media spotlight.

“That was a very sad day,” said Burke.

THE SON of Stanley Wozniak Sr. and Rosalie, he grew up with a large family of 13 brothers and sisters. His dad gave him the nickname Burke, because he burped a lot when he was 10. Family members would comment, “ ‘Oh, he burped. He burped’ So, pretty soon, they said, we’ll name him Burke.” The burps stopped, but the name stuck.

Look up the chief’s name in the phone directory and it is listed as Raymond Burke Wozniak. For many years, it was only Burke Wozniak.

In the 1960s, all the firefighters were required to live within the village limits, and nearly every male served as a volunteer firefighter at one time or another.

Burke probably lived the closest when he joined the force. It was in the home next to E & T’s Party Store, or nearly across the roadway from the fire hall. He was one of 12 in July 1962 when he officially joined. Now, there are 21.

Joe Strzelecki was the chief when Burke started.

“He was always running around with Joe,” said Laurie Wozniak, Burke’s wife of 51 years.

WHEN STRZELECKI decided to step down in 1967, he recommended the 26-year-old. Living so close, probably made the appointment easier, as he could be the first to the hall to open the doors.

He worked at the Calcite plant, retiring as an electrician after 34 years on the job.

Under his leadership, Burke was involved in organizing an annual banquet and benefit dance to buy equipment for the firemen. He was named 1991 Thunder Bay Area Fire Fighter of the Year for service above and beyond the call of duty.

That’s one way to describe his life-saving actions many years ago. The firefighters were having their monthly Sunday meeting at the hall. It was an easy day to remember, because it was Mother’s Day.

On that day, a mother of five children was in danger of drowning  in the family pond.

“I heard on the scanner that there was a possible drowning,” said Laurie. She called down to the hall and Burke already was on his way. “They were thinking, if we get this call, we’ll be closer,” said Laurie.

The dispatcher contacted the Posen Fire Department when Burke was within a half mile of the home. The woman was under the cold May water and had already turned blue and purple, said Burke.

A sheriff’s deputy already was performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR. Burke helped the officer.

“We swapped sides,” said Burke. She was revived and still is alive today.

“HE IS very devoted to the fire department,” said Laurie. “He’s always ready to go.”

“I feel good yet. We have a bunch of good guys, and I would hate to leave. There will be a day I’ll be saying goodbye to them.”

Burke respects his crew and believes they are “The best devoted firemen that a fire chief could have on the Posen Fire Department.”

In recent years, the department has experienced significant growth with the development of the Posen Area Fire Authority, and with the support of local voters, two fire trucks were purchased.

He wants to see further growth as the department looks to move from the current overcrowded hall to a new home.

More important, though, is the well-being of local residents. He wanted to remind folks that October is “fire prevention” month and to check smoke detector batteries.

Always devoted – always Burke.