Firefighters in their dress uniforms and residents on their front porches watched Friday as Emeritus Colfax Fire Chief Jim Krouse took his last ride through town on an antique American la France truck.
Since joining the Colfax Volunteer Fire Department in 1967, Krouse was always eager to help his neighbors in their time of need. He became an EMT in 1972 and was elected chief the next year. He spent years working with trainees at the Washington State University firefighting school and was beloved by many as a mentor and role model.
After 40 years as chief, Krouse retired, but couldn’t seem to stop responding to calls – being a firefighter was in his blood.
On Aug. 28, he had already responded to three calls when a fourth came in for a brushfire.
Krouse was already on scene when Rosalia Fire Chief Bill Tensfeld arrived. Tensfeld headed down a nearby hill, while Krouse was untangling hose. A few moments later, he heard yelling from a Steptoe fire crew who arrived to find Krouse unresponsive.
Despite almost immediate medical aid, Krouse died.
“Life is so fragile,” Tensfeld said. “It’s sad to lose him, but it’s comforting to know he went doing what he loved.”
On Friday, dozens of fire trucks pulled into Colfax to honor Krouse. Shiny trucks arrived from as far as Whidbey Island, while nearly every fire agency in Whitman County was represented.
Some dressed in their formal black uniforms, while volunteers from the rural Palouse towns arrived in their brush trucks wearing plaid shirts and suspenders, all united in their love of the fire service and the man who was the epitome of a public servant.
“It’s an honor,” said Brian Schaeffer, Spokane Fire Chief, of participating in the ceremony.
It was important for the department to participate, not only for all Krouse has done for the fire service but to support one of their own. Krouse’s son, Dan, followed in his father’s footsteps and is now a City of Spokane Firefighter.
“We’re here both to support Dan and to support the Colfax Community,” Schaeffer said.
The trucks drove down Mill Street, pausing to let Colfax Fire Engine No. 2, the classic American la France, pull out to lead the procession. After a second pause at the funeral home, Krouse was off on his last ride.
The procession approached First Baptist Church, where the Krouse family was gathered, along with the first town fire truck, purchased by Krouse’s father, Earl, when he was fire chief.
A bagpipe rang out as the string of fire trucks passed the Wheatland Arms Condominium.
Lynne Stewart was out in front of her apartment, thinking about how Krouse had responded when she had to go to the hospital just a few weeks before his death. He arrived quickly, driving the ambulance. He helped her out of the apartment and onto the gurney before making a few jokes, she said.
He made sure she was comfortable, but also kept things light, she said.
“A wonderful guy,” Stewart said.
As the procession arrived at the church, Dan Krouse, clad in his black fire department uniform, embraced his family with much of the Washington fire service gathered around them.
“One large fire department family,” Schaeffer said.