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'It's what he would've wanted': Procession and memorial held for longtime Colfax Fire Chief

James Earl Krouse died while fighting a wildfire. On Friday, hundreds said goodbye to him.

COLFAX, Wash. — It was the last time the Colfax Fire Chief would drive by his station. Hundreds gathered to participate in and watch the procession on Friday afternoon for Chief James Krouse. 

On the day of his memorial service, Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward ordered flags in the city to be lowered to half-staff. This follows Governor Jay Inslee’s directive that state and U.S. flags at all state agency facilities be lowered, Friday, Sept. 10, in remembrance of former Colfax Fire Chief and volunteer firefighter.

"He was a father figure, he was a mentor, he was a friend," Colfax Fire Captain Scott Kruse said. 

Krouse served the Colfax community for half a century, leaving his mark on everyone around him. His close friend and firefighting partner Scott Kruse said the chief was battling a wildfire when he suffered an apparent heart attack.

In August, Colfax Fire Department confirmed that Krouse was responding to his fourth call of the day. He collapsed while helping pull a hose from the truck to work on a brush fire outside of Colfax.

"Some of the guys came running over to me and told me he collapsed and that's how I found out," he said. "I went in the ambulance with him."

Krouse was rushed to the Whitman Hospital, where he died. Fire investigators later determined the wildfire he was responding to was caused by a cigarette. Pullman Fire Investigator Tony Nuttman ruled the fire accidental.

The man who caused the fire was arrested and booked into the Whitman County Jail for second-degree criminal trespass.

Friends and family will gather to honor the life and years of service to the Colfax Fire Department. Krouse served as Colfax Chief from 1972 to 2010, following his father Earl, who was the chief prior to him. 

Kruse stayed with him in his final moments, but Friday, the rest of the community got to say goodbye. 

Nearly 50 fire engines, ambulances and rescue vehicles drove down the main street of Colfax honor the Chief. At least 13 different fire jurisdictions and numerous law enforcement officers took off their caps as the antique car drove the leader to the church. When asked what he would say to Krouse one last time, Kruse let his tears flow.

"I miss you, I miss him, we all do," he said, tearfully. "He was a bigger part of our department then a lot of people knew. We talked a lot and its missing him. Not having him come to the station, its hard."

Krouse brought a sense of excitement and love of the career to the station. He loved teaching new cadets and recruits. and was the best at it, he added.

"He always told us, if he wanted to go - he wanted it to be hunting or fighting fire, well guess what?" he said. "But the beautiful thing is he was looking over Colfax."

Despite the grief that his death is causing, Kruse said this is what the chief would have wanted.

"I'm sad, but I'm honored," he said. "It's what he would've wanted"