‘A pretty savvy guy’
Al Cook didn’t waste time.
He fought fires in Spokane Valley and then spent years as an inspector trying to prevent them. In the slow hours at the fire station, he helped organize fire safety campaigns. And during his vacations, the scoutmaster was usually camping with his troop.
“Dad was trying to be a hero all his life,” said Randy Cook, his son.
Alton Duane Cook – retired firefighter, father and longtime Valley volunteer – died July 18 of heart failure. He was 74.
In 1957 he left his job as a butcher and took a 50 percent pay cut to work 48-hour shifts as a firefighter.
“Fire service back then was very, very dangerous,” said Randy Cook, also a retired firefighter. “They’d know they were in too far because their ears were burning.”
Al Cook started fighting industrial and house fires in the Valley before the advent of respirators, sometimes running into rooms black with smoke and holding his breath while looking for the fire, his son said.
Even during his free time, Al Cook worked to make the Valley a safer place.
For years, his father and other firefighters and police would make appearances as old St. Nick at grade schools to tell kids about the hazards of fires around the holidays. “I remember Santa Claus always coming out of my house as a kid,” Randy Cook said.
Sometimes Al Cook would get the name of a child in the audience from the school secretary and ask the student, by name, to hold his bag of goodies.
“That always worked,” said George Orr, a former firefighter and state representative who started working with Cook in the 1970s.
Orr also played Santa for several years.
“Al showed me how to do it,” he said.
Over the years, Cook also made appearances as Flamo the clown and Sparky the fire dog in the name of fire safety.
Cook also inspected buildings for fire hazards, and retired as a lieutenant of inspectors in 1980.
“He was very good with people,” even when he had to tell them to fix a costly safety problem, Orr said
“He’s one of those guys, he could walk up to you and start talking to you like he knew you forever,” said Tony Walker, who became an Eagle Scout badge in the Boy Scout troop where Cook was scoutmaster.
Cook was always ready to lead a camping trip or show a Scout a new skill, Walker said.
“He was always willing to help out,” he said.
For his years of work, Cook was given the Silver Beaver award – the highest honor awarded to a volunteer.
“There wasn’t a knot he couldn’t tie, and there wasn’t anything he couldn’t carve,” Orr said.
“He got a lot of us young fellas (at the fire station) to counsel these young men on merit badges,” he said.
Born in Spokane in 1930, Cook spent most of his life in Spokane Valley. He graduated from West Valley High School and attended the University of Wyoming and Spokane Community College, where he later taught fire science.
He joined the Air National Guard at Felts Field and was stationed in England from 1950 to 1951.
Back in Washington, he married Esther in 1953. Randy Cook was born two years later.
After retirement, Al Cook owned a business called Shop N’ Wood.
“He found some things that nobody else could do and did it,” Randy Cook said.
Al Cook repaired old furniture, joined a gold prospecting club and continued his involvement with the Elks, where he was a member for 31 years.
Several people recalled his skills as a wood carver. At the fire station, or on a Scout trip, he was known for carving the likeness of the people around him into bolo ties and other figures.
“He was a pretty savvy guy,” Orr said.