DeKalb fireman retires after 29 years of service

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Kierra Frazier

DeKALB — Deputy Fire Chief Jim Zarek retired from the DeKalb Fire Department after serving 29 years. He said he hopes to work at another fire department in Janesville, Wisconsin.

Mayor Jerry Smith and City Council members honored him at the Feb. 11 City Council meeting.  

City Manager Bill Nicklas said when Zarek started as a firefighter, Nicklas was a city department head, so his retirement is very personal and professional to him.

“29 years later, he has been for some time serving as deputy fire chief and has had a remarkable career,” Nicklas said.

Nicklas presented Zarek with a certificate of recognition for 29 years of service at the Feb. 11 City Council meeting.

Zarek said he retired because he felt as if it was just the right time to move onto the next adventure.

“I’m really grateful for what the city has done for me,” Zarek said. “It’s not for a negative reason that I’m leaving, I just felt as if it were time.”

Zarek said his wife, Elizabeth Zarek, who is apart of the clerk staff for parking services at NIU, is also retiring and their youngest son is graduating this year. He said with all the changes happening this year, it was an appropriate time to retire.

Before Zarek became deputy fire chief in 2016, he held other positions such as battalion chief, captain, lieutenant and firefighter, all at the DeKalb Fire Department.

Zarek said when he filled out the application for a firefighter  30 years ago, he had no idea where he was going in his career.

“Like many young people, 21 or 22-year-olds, they’re just wanting to get work,” Zarek said. “Now since looking back, I want to thank the city for providing me with the career I have.”

Smith said Zarek is a local guy and he’ll probably stick around depending on what Zarek decides to do after retirement.

“[Zarek’s] a gentleman who has risen up through the ranks and he decided that it was a good time to retire,” Smith said. “ I wish he and his wife Beth and his kids all the best.”

Zarek is a finalist of four others who applied for the position in Janesville and aspires to get the job after his two interviews next week.

Zarek issued a challenge to current firefighters and other city employees to take up in light of his retirement. He said as he’s leaving, he asks employees to keep four words in mind.

“The challenge is basically four words; remember who you are,” Zarek said. “As we go out here, one of the things we’re often called is public servants, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

Zarek said their job, as public servants, is to ensure citizens who visit or work in the city to have a safe and enjoyable time while they’re here because it’s their job.

“So my challenge to everyone who works in the city is to remember who we are as we go forward,” Zarek said. “Thank you for the past 29 years, it’s been a great run.”