Vietnam vet, retired state trooper collapses, dies while fighting wildfire

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CARLTON, Wash. – The massive Carlton Complex Fire has destroyed between 150 and 200 homes, and the wildfire is showing no signs of stopping.

The fire claimed it’s first victim over the weekend — 67-year-old Robert Koczewski died while trying to keep the flames from destroying his home.

Robert and his wife watched the valley go up in flames and they’d seen it happen before, so they grabbed some water hoses and hoped for the best.

But this time Robert couldn’t withstand the physical demands; he collapsed and died of an apparent stroke while protecting his home.

After spending 26 years in the Marine Corps, and more than a decade with the Washington State Patrol, Robert and his wife retired to central Washington.

Robert’s son, Robert Koczewski Jr., says his father was a fighter.

“He wasn’t just going to give up and burn up,” he said. “He would definitely have pushed it and he did. He pushed it to keep what he had.”

The flames raced close to the property. Blackened earth could be seen on a neighboring hillside.

Robert and his wife built fire lines and used hoses to douse the flames to protect their home, and also their neighbor’s property.

But the excessive heat and Robert’s declining health made for a lethal combination.

“He just collapsed. I think he just exhausted himself to a stroke and died,” said Robert Jr.

One of Robert Jr.’s most cherished memories is of the two running a marathon together in Hawaii.

That’s how he will remember his dad — strong and determined.

“As sad as it is to see him go the way he went, I’m glad he went that way,” he said. “He had a purpose and it was his M.O. to do that kind of stuff. I’m glad he was able to help everybody else. He’s known for that in this valley and he did it right.”

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  • Roloaddict

    Thank you for your service to our country and our state Robert. Your son is correct, you went out fighting the good fight.

  • james

    I met The Sgt-Major when he was an officer with The Suquamish Tribal police a short time after he left the Marines and was waiting to go to the Patrol. He was a one of the good cops. my condolences to his family.

  • Anthony Person

    Home meant that much to him, huh? A sad situation indeed.

    I hope the trooper was ready to meet God prior to his passing.

    “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…” Hebrews 9:27

  • Vincent Cortez

    I would like to start off by sending my condolences to his family, with that said I want to say what an Honor it was to serve under him He was and always will be My one of my favorite mentors and My favorite Sgt. Major … SEMPER FI !!!

  • Jeff Leuschen

    I remember him well. He pulled me over about 12 years ago as I was speeding to work. At the time, I was a firefighter for the Forest Service. I remember his professionalism, his humor and his grace. He served his country and his community well. Thank you for your service. By the way, he did not write me a ticket, even though I definitely deserved one.

  • Robert Wasilewski

    I had the pleasure of serving under him while I was stationed at MCSF Bangor. He was a strong leader and a very good mentor. Truly will be missed RIP SGT MAJ SEMPER FI