Poulsbo Fire Department mourns death of ‘Nice Guy Joe’

PFD lieutenant struck by car while cycling

POULSBO — Members of the Poulsbo Fire Department are reeling from the death of Joseph Vlach.

Vlach, a Poulsbo Fire Department lieutenant and a member of the department for three decades, was struck by a car and killed while cycling July 2.

“Our crew went on the call. It was tough for some of the members,” said Jody Matson, Poulsbo Fire Department spokesperson.

The 77-year-old Vlach was training for a Seattle to Portland bike ride on Highway 3 when he apparently “failed to stop at the stop sign at the end of the ramp and proceeded to eastbound State Route 308,” according to the Washington State Patrol report. He later died at Harborview Medical Center, KOMO News reported.

Vlach, a 33-year volunteer with the Poulsbo Fire Department, came to the station almost every day, Matson said.

“He always said, ‘If you need anything, call my wife. I work for her,’” Matson recalled. “I’m going to really miss him.”

Matson is not alone in missing the man popularly known as “Nice Guy Joe.” Vlach often drove an antique fire truck in the annual Fourth of July parade at Keyport. This year, two days after his death, his friend Pete Matuschak drove in the vintage Model T truck in the parade in honor of his memory, KOMO News reported.

“It’s all about Joe,” Matuschak told KOMO News. “This is Joe’s Day.”

Fire apparatus — modern ones from the Poulsbo Fire Department this time — will play a role in Vlach’s services if the family wishes it, said Poulsbo Fire Chief Jeff Griffin.

“We’re trying to support the family,” he said.

“Gonna be a huge hole to fill, and I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” Volunteer Battalion Chief Kurt Krech told KOMO News.

The Poulsbo Fire Department issued the following statement on its Facebook page: “We are saddened to say that Lt. Joe Vlach, a longtime volunteer of 33 years, has passed away as the result of a bicycle accident yesterday. We are all in a state of disbelief that we have lost this man, a great member of the department, grandfather, dad and loving husband. He was a loved member of the community and a caring giver of his time to others, he has touched many members of the community and will be missed.”

On the same Facebook page, firefighters commented on the loss to the department and the community.

“I woke this morning full of sadness over the loss of a friend yesterday,” Captain Chris Rahl wrote. “He was a friend to all that knew him and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his community, family and friends. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and my fire service brothers and sisters that did everything they could for him in his final moments. I’ll miss you, Joe :).”

Firefighter Tim Quitsland wrote: “I am kind of at a loss. He was a huge part of my upbringing in the fire service. As he was to everyone that came through the doors of Poulsbo Fire Department.”

Vlach is survived by his wife, Cherie; their son, Rick, and his children, Lacie, Kenneth, Josie and Bella; son Joe and his wife, Hollie, and their children, Joseph, Catherine and Michael; and their son Scott and his wife, Lisa, and their children, Zachary and Reece. He was preceded in death by a fourth son, Kenneth.

The Vlach family had not set a date for the services as of 10 a.m. July 6.