For more than half a century, volunteer firefighter Jim Krouse kept the people of Colfax safe.
Now, for the first time in 52 years, Colfax will be without one of its staunchest defenders. On Saturday, the 76-year-old Krouse died of an apparent heart attack while responding to his fourth call of the day.
“We’ve got a big hole in our department,” Colfax Assistant Fire Chief Craig Corbeill said. “We’re going to have to all come together to fill that void and keep his memory alive. It’ll be impossible to replace him. We just can’t.”
After Krouse collapsed around 3 p.m., fire crews from around the Palouse continued to fight the fire on Green Hollow Road. But once they put out the blaze, firefighters gathered at Whitman Medical Center to honor Krouse.
An ambulance carried Krouse’s body, draped in an American flag, to Bruning Funeral Home. Firefighters, the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office and Washington State Patrol troopers formed a procession, escorting the longtime chief.
Krouse had firefighting in his blood. His dad, Earl Krouse, was Colfax’s fire chief in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His son, Daniel Krouse, is a Spokane firefighter.
A decade ago, Krouse stepped down as Colfax’s fire chief after 40 years at the helm. He tried to semiretire and go on fewer calls, Corbeill said.
Corbeill remembers how Krouse kept showing up to calls even though he was supposed to have been easing back. The man loved firefighting too much.
“I said, ‘You can’t call yourself a reserve firefighter when you’re showing up more than the regular firefighters,’ ” Corbeill said.
The fire department decided to make Krouse chief emeritus about five years ago.
“From that moment on, he was always a chief,” Corbeill said.
Krouse was prolific as a volunteer firefighter, even as a 76-year-old.
“It’s just amazing at 76 years old how many calls he went on,” Corbeill said, noting that he’s never heard of a firefighter as old as Krouse. “He answered more calls for service than many of the members half his age.”
Younger firefighters often benefited from Krouse’s decades of experience, Corbeill said. The longtime chief was constantly teaching cadets and young firefighters.
In 2016, Corbeill became chief. He wasn’t sure he was up for the job at the time, and he went to Krouse for advice.
“He said, ‘Craig, as long as you put the water on the fire that’s all you have to do,’ ” Corbeill said. “It’s what I needed to hear in the moment.”
Corbeill said he thinks there are a couple of reasons Krouse had so much passion for firefighting.
Elaine Krouse, Jim Krouse’s widow, told Corbeill on Saturday that her husband grew up poor. Community members were constantly helping the Krouses.
“That always sat with Jim, and he felt that he had to give back,” Corbeill said.
On top of that, Krouse was simply good at what he did and enjoyed every minute of it.
“He was like a kid in a candy store. He just loved what he was doing; loved helping people,” Corbeill said. “He would not have wanted to go any other way.”
Arrangements for Krouse are pending. Fire departments from all over Washington will attend a state funeral for Krouse in Colfax sometime within the next two weeks.