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A calling to fight fires

Tue., July 15, 2008

2 sisters of volunteer died in a fire

As young firefighter Marty Shier returned to the Dishman Hills fire lines Monday night for another 12-hour shift, he continued fulfilling a goal he set following a family tragedy 15 years ago.

His two older sisters died in a middle-of-the-night rural cabin fire in 1993, leaving their 4-year-old brother dreaming about becoming a firefighter someday – to help save lives and property.

His sisters’ photos were inside his helmet Thursday night as the 19-year-old volunteer firefighter from Fire District 10 helped defend dozens of Ponderosa homes from an advancing wildfire that destroyed 11 others.

He wore the helmet again last night as he and dozens of other firefighters from around the region continued scrubbing out hot spots at random locations in a two-square-mile area south of the Dishman Hills Natural Area.

“I’m out there because of my sisters, honoring their memories,” Shier said Monday afternoon as he got ready for another shift.

His sisters, 7-year-old Chelsea and 12-year-old Amanda, died in the fire that broke out while the family was sleeping in a vacation cabin near Malo, in north-central Washington.

Marty Shier, his brother and another sister and the children’s parents, Dan and Judy Shier, of Spokane, escaped. Judy Shier suffered severe burns while rescuing the three children who escaped. Flames blocked the parents from reaching their other two daughters, asleep in an upper loft.

The cause of the fire was never determined.

“I don’t remember a lot about it,” Marty Shier recalled Monday. “I can remember seeing the firetrucks, the red-flashing lights coming up the driveway.”

“I can remember holding the teddy bear they gave me in the hospital,” he said. “But I don’t recall how I reacted or who told me they died.

“Since then, my parents tell me, all I’ve talked about is becoming a fireman,” he said. “As long as I can remember I wanted to be a fireman.”

While attending North Central High School, Shier joined the Explorer Scout program affiliated with Fire District 10, based on Spokane’s West Plains.

“We got our own gear and would pull regulars shifts with the regular firefighters, usually on Friday or Saturday nights,” he said. “We’d do ride-alongs on medic calls, house fires, whatever came in.”

“We had to wear an ‘observer’s vest’ and would only fill water bottles for the firefighters and usually just stand back and watch.”

Before graduating from high school in 2007, he was accepted to be a “resident firefighter” – a firefighter who lives in one of the District 10 firehouses and responds to fire calls and medical emergencies.

When not pulling duty at the fire station, he works at a fire equipment supply company in Spokane Valley. He was there Thursday afternoon when he and co-workers spotted smoke in the hills south of Dishman. A few hours later, after he’d left work, his District 10 pager went off when Spokane Valley Fire Department called for mutual aid from other departments.

Shier and another District 10 resident firefighter, Greg Moore, drove one of the district’s brush rigs to the Valley fire scene and stayed Thursday night on the fire lines before being relieved about 8 a.m. Friday.

As the fire raged out of control and evacuations were ordered Thursday night, Shier said his cell phone piled up with text messages from family and friends – “things like, ‘Hey, be safe,’ and ‘I love you,’ ” he said.

Despite their loss, his parents “have been real supportive” of his desire to be a firefighter, Shier said. His father designs fire sprinkler systems and his mother works in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sacred Heart Medical Center.

Shier has completed training and is a certified EMT in addition to being certified to drive most of the district’s emergency equipment. He also has completed coursework and is certified to fight structure fires and wildland fires. While he’s now an unpaid volunteer, he regularly applies for paid firefighter positions.

“Marty has acquired a firm commitment to fire service,” said District 10 Capt. Ron Cato.

“He’s very focused, very dedicated,” said Cato, a medical technologist by profession who has spent the last 20 years as a volunteer firefighter. He was the adviser to the Explorer chapter and the man whom Shier calls his mentor and role model.

After Shier’s photo was published in Saturday editions of The Spokesman-Review, his now-retired kindergarten teacher at Garfield Elementary School proudly recalled her former student.

“He’s just an exceptional person,” said Deanie Pizzillo of Spokane.

“His story is just amazing,” she said. “Not to take away from other people, but, hey, let’s face it, a lot of firemen and policemen are there because of the health package and the benefit package.

“This is a kid that, since grade school, had one goal, and it was to be a firefighter so nothing happens to anybody else like happened to his family.”

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or e-mail:

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