SEQUIM — More than 500 friends, coworkers and other members of the community packed the Sequim High School gymnasium to mourn the loss of Clallam County Fire District 3 Capt. Charles “Chad” Cate.
A longtime Sequim native, a first responder and a youth sports coach, the 46-year-old Cate was found dead in his fire district bunk in the early morning hours of Jan. 12.
Nine days later, with heavy hearts, friends shared their thoughts as they paid tribute before a standing-room-only crowd in the gym.
“Chad was a professional,” said Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews on Saturday afternoon.
“It was apparent with Chad that firefighting wasn’t simply a means to provide for his family,” the chief said.
“He saw that being a firefighter was a job that allowed him to not only serve the community but to grow in the profession and at the same time connect with people.”
Cate, a 1994 Sequim High School graduate, began serving as a volunteer firefighter in 1994, was hired by the fire district in 1996 as firefighter/EMT, added “paramedic” to his qualifications in 2001, and was promoted to the rank of captain in 2021.
Steve Chinn spoke Saturday about the many “boxes” of memories that various friends and coworkers have about Cate.
Chinn recruited Cate, then an eighth-grader, to be manager for the SHS high school varsity wrestling team in the early 1990s. Later, the pair worked together at Fire District 3.
In recent years, Chinn — now a Fire District 3 commissioner — came out of retirement to help Cate, who was named head SHS wrestling coach midway through the 2019-2020 season, to help rebuild the program.
“In the many years I’ve known Chad, I have seen him through so many different eyes,” Chinn said Saturday. “I’ve seen him as a wrestler, a fellow firefighter, a coach partner and a close friend.”
Kevin Van De Wege, representing the Local IAFF 2933 firefighters union, said Cate’s greatest contribution to the fire service was his candor and levity.
He said Cate was well-known for his IOUs, recalling an incident when Cate brought a wrapped gift to a shift gift exchange party … with an IOU inside.
“His wit was legendary; he made work doable and life fun,” Van De Wege said. “He had the great skill of making all the day-to-day minutia of serving in a militaristic environment workable … Chad was always there able to break it down, to respond with a laugh.
“He always brought calm to emergencies.”
Cate was last seen with a firefighter crew responding to a fire alarm activation at a commercial building at about 2:25 a.m. on Jan. 12, district officials said; following the call, the crew returned to the station and went to bed.
Later, after apparently heading back out to the site of an earlier house fire in the Dungeness neighborhood, he texted a fellow captain and the duty chief at about 4 a.m. to say that all was well at the scene, fire officials said.
Cate was discovered dead in his bunk by members of his crew when they attempted to wake him at about 7 a.m., according to a fire district press release.
The cause of death was not known as of Sunday.
Cate’s death is only the second recorded of a Sequim firefighter while in the line of duty; on Aug. 30, 1978, Dale Kruse sacrificed his life while serving his community as a volunteer captain for the Sequim Fire Department.
Cate is survived by his wife Renee, 2-year-old son Charles Thomas Cate III, and two adult children: Harrison, who is a Cadet 4th Class at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Ashleigh, who is serving in the U.S. Army as a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne.
Family members were presented Saturday with several items, including flags flown at Fire District 3 headquarters for 29 minutes — one minute for each year of Cate’s fire service career.
“There was nobody on this Earth that could love me the way that he did,” Cate’s wife Renee said at Saturday’s ceremony.
“I felt like our life together was just beginning. I loved every moment of our life together.”
She imparted advice for those attending Saturday’s ceremony: “Love each other as if it was your last day. Kiss them longer, hug them longer. Go on all the dates. Tell your partner you love them, because life is too short. I know that life gets busy with work and jobs and children and commitments. But the time you kiss them goodbye as they leave for work, it could be the last time.”
Cate’s memorial included a procession of several dozen fire vehicles that snaked through town before finishing at Sequim High School.
Andrews said there was a prayer of blessing verse he and Cate had heard that spoke to them both, for the family, the brotherhood of firefighters and the community at large.
“The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Several regional fire districts, including the Port Angeles Fire Department and East Jefferson Fire Rescue, staffed Sequim stations so all District 3 firefighters could take part in the memorial.
View the full service at youtube.com/watch?v=9sg2Sm5Esvg.
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.