BASIN CITY -- More than 500 community members, including hundreds of firefighters from around the state came together Saturday to remember Chet Bauermeister.
They shared stories of his courage, selfless service and compassion with hugs, tears and smiles surrounded by several dozens firetrucks that earlier had paraded through the town to honor Basin City's beloved fire chief who recently died in the line of duty. Bauermeister died June 23 helping fight a brush fire in Adams County after his ATV flipped and rolled about 100 feet down a steep slope. He was 46.
He always was there to lend a hand to those in need, said Steve Cooper, friend and assistant fire chief of Franklin County Fire District 4. He was one of the earliest responders to a crisis, Cooper said. Bauermeister encouraged him to join the volunteer fire department about six years ago and helped him learn the ropes.
" 'Managing a fire is like herding cats,' Chet told me," Cooper said.
Cooper was one of hundreds of friends and family who came dressed in orange T-shirts -- Bauermeister's favorite attire -- to remember him. He was friendly, approachable and respected by others for his abilities, Cooper said. Bauermeister also was an emergency medical technician who drove the ambulance in Basin City.
"He was a big man with a big heart," Cooper said.
Bauermeister's focus always was on improving the training and getting proper equipment for his fellow firefighters, said Jim Klaustermeyer, commissioner, Franklin County Fire District 4. He was always looking for the safety of his fellow firefighters. "I'm very proud of Chief Bauermeister," he said choking on tears.
Washington State Fire Marshal Chuck Duffy read out Gov. Chris Gregoire's letter of condolence. He will be dearly missed, but his legacy will continue to inspire others, Duffy said.
The Bauermeister tribute included playing bagpipes, presentation of U.S. flags and a statue from the Boise-based Wildland Firefighter Foundation to his family, ringing a brass bell and the last radio dispatch.
Bauermeister's name will adorn a plaque at the Washington State Fire Training Academy in North Bend later this year and at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Park in Emmitsburg, Md., next year, said Ron Roy, a former president of the Washington State Fire Fighters Association.
"I feel very proud of my husband," said Bauermeister's wife Sandy after the community barbecue. "He would have loved this."
Chet loved people and didn't wait for an opportunity to help, she said. Once, while driving to Vancouver, British Columbia, he saw a hay truck on the road, and he immediately sensed the truck's load was not correctly distributed. He helped fixed the problem but the truck driver wondered if Chet would charge for his service, his wife recalled. Help someone else in need, Bauermeister told the truck driver in return.
Recently he took his neighbors children whitewater rafting in Oregon, said Bauermeister's father Don. He looked out for everyone in the community, he said.
Chet was inspired to be firefighter by his dad, said his stepmother Kathleen. And Chet's son Lester, 16, will continue the family tradition of being a fire fighter, she said. He plans on taking classes at Tri-Tech Skills Center.