Edmonton

Couple found dead near Jasper remembered as dedicated volunteer firefighters

Matthew Kozak and Zabrina Ferrier died while hiking in Jasper National Park. At the small fire department where the couple served as volunteers, they are being remembered for their passion and dedication.

'They were the kind of people that everybody liked'

Matthew Kozak and Zabrina Ferrier were reported missing last weekend. Their bodies were recovered from Jasper National Park on Wednesday. (Rhonda Francis/Facebook)

Zabrina Ferrier and Matt Kozak, side by side in layers of firefighting gear, covered in soot and smiling.

That's how the young couple will be remembered by their colleagues at the small rural Alberta fire department where they served as volunteers.

Ferrier and Kozak were inseparable, said Kim Cannady, regional emergency services coordinator for Flagstaff County. 

"I don't really know how to describe it, but as a couple, they did stuff together, and it was always nice to see them because they were always together and always smiling.

"They were the kind of people that everybody liked."

Ferrier, 25, and Kozak, 32, were found dead Tuesday night in the Verdant Pass area of Jasper National Park. Their bodies were recovered the next day. RCMP said it's believed the couple were hiking and died of their injuries after falling from a steep bank.

A search had been ongoing for the couple, who had not been seen since Friday. Their vehicle had been found in a parking lot near the Mount Edith Cavell Road trails, which encircle the mountain's scenic peaks.

Cannady worked alongside Kozak and Ferrier. He met them three years ago, soon after they moved to Galahad, Alta., a small hamlet 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

They signed up together for the fire department and soon gained a reputation as a dedicated and vibrant young couple. 

"They were just very positive people," Cannady said.

"They were just together all the time. They always came to training and they were always pitching in and helping." 

The bodies of Matt Kozak, 32, and Zabrina Ferrier, 25, were recovered Wednesday morning in the Verdant Pass area of Jasper National Park. The couple served together as volunteer firefighters. (Matt Kozak/Facebook)

Ferrier was studying to become a nurse. Kozak worked in agriculture. Together they became invaluable members of the small fire department, Cannady said.

The department came to rely on Kozak's knowledge of fertilizers, and on Ferrier's medical skills, which she shared with the team, Cannady said.

Ferrier kept it quiet but was also a member of Mensa, an organization for people with high IQs.

"When I first met her, I just thought she was this shy, quiet young girl," Cannady said. "And I was surprised at how smart she was because she never, ever let on that she knew more than me but she did.

"And Matt was just one of those guys that was just very friendly. He came to all the training and he wanted to learn and just had fun doing it."

Weekends in the mountains

When they weren't working or volunteering, they spent their time exploring the mountains, Cannady said. Almost every weekend, they drove west to the Rockies for another adventure. 

They never talked about it but Cannady is sure Ferrier and Kozak joined the department out of a desire to give back. 

"There's this huge reward in helping people," he said. "I mean, you come back from a call and you're just happy to give. You know you've contributed to something."

"There is a photograph of Zabrina. At the time, I didn't think anything of it. But now, I think of that picture and it shows a picture of what she was like, roll up your sleeves, get in there and get it done. " 

Their deaths have left the department shaken, Cannady said.

"It was a huge shock for all of us," he said. "Our thoughts are just with the families because it's not easy for them to get through this. We will be OK. We know that, but we really feel bad for the families." 

Both families have asked for privacy but issued a statement to CBC News on Friday, expressing their grief. 

"The only thing I can say is we're all devastated," reads the statement from Kozak's brother Michael Kozak. "They touched so many lives. 

"They were all loved so much, and we're all gonna miss them so much."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca

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