Chris Hoagland and Adam Villard are “huge” Seattle Seahawks fans. Hoagland’s two sons, Russell and Luke, are named for Seahawk players.
The two are also Spokane County Fire District 8 firefighters. Those two worlds collided in a surprise Tuesday when Hoagland and Villard raised the 12th Man flag for the Seahawks at their station off South Palouse Highway.
The pair joined the ranks of Seahawks legends and celebrities including Dave Matthews and Chris Pratt as they raised the flag. But they didn’t raise it for themselves – the flag honored Spokane County Station 81 and all firefighters who battled fast-moving blazes that devastated Malden and Pine City in early September.
Villard, in 15 years as a full-time firefighter, said he’d never seen anything like the Malden wildfire.
“The best way I could describe it is, I’ve never been in a war zone, but if I were to imagine one, what I found in Malden would be that,” Villard said.
Only a few homes survived. As Hoagland drove toward Malden, Villard saw the plume of smoke growing fast. He remembers turning to Hoagland and saying: “This fire is going to beat us to Malden. We’re not going to make it.”
At one point, they had to stop the truck. Fifty-foot flames were crossing the road ahead of them, burning trees on either side.
“When you have a fire burning trees at, like, 30 to 40 miles per hour, it’s just a wall of flames, basically,” Hoagland said.
Then in Malden, “total devastation,” Hoagland said. Cars were on fire. In Pine City, a grain tower was completely engulfed in flames, Villard said.
Though Hoagland and Villard were some of the first firefighters there, crews stayed for days mopping up and helping people recover from the damage, Hoagland said.
Jason “J” Wilkins, division chief in charge of training at Spokane County Fire District 8, said the narration of the video the Seahawks published hit the nail on the head. It focused on the concept of a team.
The communities of Malden and Pine City were also on the team fighting the fire, Wilkins said, and they’re facing an uphill battle to rebuild now.
“We did what we could for that team,” Wilkins said. “The whole fire itself, from day one to day nine, we worked as a team to protect that community and to try to start the beginning of normality for those folks.”
Seahawks management reached out through the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters and said they were looking for some of the first firefighters who arrived at the scene, Wilkins said. For Hoagland and Villard, it was a total surprise. They arrived at Spokane County Fire Station 81 to the “12” flag on the pole and Taima the Hawk, the Seahawks’ living mascot, in the building.
The day after they raised the flag, the pair “both had a little bit of guilt,” Villard said.
“First responders, nurses, doctors, everyone, we all do our part,” he said. “And we were both like ‘Why us?’ and I think I threw out the Russell Wilson quote, ‘Why not us?’ and we both kind of laughed.”
Maggie Quinlan can be reached at (509) 459-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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