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Basin City gathers after death of beloved fire chief

BASIN CITY – Chet Bauermeister was a big man who was known to be outspoken and even kind of loud.

But it was the 46-year-old Basin City man’s heart, kindness and willingness to do everything and help anyone that made him stand out to those who knew him.

“He lived for the community,” said his father, Don Bauermeister. “Anything and everything anyone wanted he did.”

Chet Bauermeister, who led Franklin Fire District 4 as its chief since late 2003, died when his ATV flipped and rolled about 100 feet down a steep slope while he was helping fight a brush fire Wednesday afternoon in Adams County.

Another firefighter from Fire District 4, Ryan F. Theroff, 29, was thrown from the rig and suffered minor injuries. He was treated at Othello Community Hospital and later released.

Bauermeister’s death has devastated his family and fire district crew, but it’s a loss that also has hit the community hard.

“He was bigger than just the fire district,” said Benton Fire District 4 Chief Mike Spring. “He was involved in everything that went on in Basin City. … I don’t think you can probably find a person in the Basin City area who didn’t know Chet.”

A community meeting was held Thursday night at the Basin City Fire Hall to let residents know what was going on and to serve as a debriefing for firefighters and other emergency responders in the area.

The meeting was intended to try to answer questions residents had, clear up any rumors that may be circulating and give them some peace, Spring said.

“It’s also to let them know that as a whole fire group, we’re not just going to forget about them after a week,” he said.

Fire chiefs from around the Mid-Columbia also got together and formed a plan to help cover the fire district’s calls to give the firefighters time to mourn.

“They really lost a key leader there and the chiefs are looking to see what we can do to help keep them functioning,” said Richland Fire Chief Grant Baynes.

Volunteer crews from fire districts in Walla Walla, Franklin and Benton counties will be staffing the Basin City station throughout the weekend.

Franklin Fire District 4 covers 180 square miles in the northwest area of the county and has about 30 volunteers.

“Their guys are pretty torn up,” Spring said. “We’re just trying to give them a break so they can recover.”

The accident is being investigated by the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, with help from the Grant County sheriff’s traffic unit. The state Department of Labor & Industries is also conducting an investigation, as is common in workplace fatalities.

The cause of the fire, which broke out about 2:45 p.m. near Hart Road and Highway 24 south of Othello, also is under investigation.

Firefighters from Adams Fire District 5 found the 42-acre fire burning on the south slope of Saddle Mountain near Saddle Mountain Orchards, officials said. Mutual aid was requested from Grant Fire District 8, Franklin Fire District 4, U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Hanford Fire.

Bauermeister grew up wanting to be a firefighter just like his dad. He fought fires alongside the longtime fire district chief as soon as he was old enough to join the department, his father said.

When Don Bauermeister retired in late 2003, Chet took over, becoming the fire district’s third chief. The duo built the fire district’s first rural brush truck and Chet put together three more over the years.

Chet built the ATV, a snow cat that was converted to a fire apparatus, that he was using Wednesday. The tracked ATV apparently lost traction on the steep slope and rolled about six times.

Bauermeister also did the maintenance on all fire trucks — “there was always something wrong with them, no matter what,” Don Bauermeister said — and he maintained the six ambulances used by Fire District 4 and Fire District 1.

In addition to being fire chief, Bauermeister was an emergency medical technician who drove the ambulance in Basin City.

Bauermeister also was a farmer and owned Chet Bauermeister Trucking in Mesa, which he started with his brother, his father said.

“It takes some big shoes to fill. It’s a big void. He did an awful lot,” his father said. “And he knew everybody. I don’t care where he went, he knew somebody there.”

Bauermeister also loved river rafting and had taken two rafting trips through the Grand Canyon.

Bauermeister leaves behind his wife Sandy; four children, Katelin, Amanda, Josh and Lester; a grandson, Kayden; and numerous siblings, nieces and nephews.

Bauermeister’s family said Chet didn’t want a formal funeral service as typically is held for firefighters killed in the line of duty and officials said his wishes will be honored.

They will, however, use the community parade July 3 to honor Bauermeister. Fire departments from around the state will be invited to participate.

A celebration of life is planned from 2 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Don Bauermeister’s farm, and a memorial is set for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Basin City Fire Hall.

Bauermeister’s father said his son wanted people to have a party and remember the good times instead of grieving. His family said his favorite saying was, “Live your life so no one has to tell lies at your funeral.”

A memorial fund in Chet Bauermeister’s name has been established at the Bank of Whitman.

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