With his family and friends, fellow firefighters, the wrestlers he coached, and the countless people he helped in the line of duty, Clallam County Fire District 3 Capt. Charles “Chad” Thomas Cate II made a deep impact in the Sequim community and beyond.
An estimated 1,000 people filled the Sequim High School gymnasium Saturday afternoon, mourning his loss. A longtime Sequim native, a first responder and a youth sports coach, the 46-year-old Cate was found deceased 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 gym.
“Chad was a professional,” said Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews at the memorial service.
“It was apparent with Chad that firefighting wasn’t simply a means to provide for his family. 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.
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 where 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.”
Van De Wege said Cate would be upset if he didn’t mention his love for the Seattle Mariners.
“Some day, the Mariners will be in the World Series,” he said.
“When that happens, hopefully this year, have a beer for Chad and the team he loved.”
Cate is survived by his wife Renee, 2-year-old son Charles “Charley” Thomas Cate III, and two adult children: Harrison, who is a Cadet 4th Class in the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Ashleigh, who is serving in the U.S. Army as a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne.
Cate was born in Kanab, Utah, on Feb. 5, 1976, to Katherine “Brandy” Cate and the now late Charles Thomas Cate Sr.
He’s also survived by his six siblings.
Renee said at Saturday’s ceremony, “My husband loved his children furiously and unconditionally.”
A video slideshow showed dozens of pictures of him with his family including his last photos on his phone cuddling his son Charley.
Family members, including his mother Brandy Cate, were presented Saturday with several items, including American flags flown at Fire District 3’s 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,” Renee said.
“I felt like our life together was just beginning. I loved every moment of our life together.”
She thanked the fire department, her family and the community, saying, “he was deeply loved by all of those around him.”
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.”
From this tragedy, Renee said she’s learned to look up from her phone, be present, feel the wind in her face, taste her food and “see the light and joy in our son’s eyes.”
Renee said her husband was so excited to be able to teach their youngest son to wrestle, and she wants to honor his wish to introduce him to the sport. She said Cate spoke often about how proud he was of the wrestling team.
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 an interview early last week, Chinn recalled, “He was such a talented kid, such a nice kid. I thought we needed to have him around. And he loved it.”)
Cate went on to be a started with the SHS wrestling program, wrestling under head coaches Chinn, Rich Hay and Ross Zeigler.
As a junior, Cate was the only Sequim wrestler to advance through districts to the state regional tournament — a bit of a shock for wrestler and coach alike, as Cate had a 10-8 record and ninth-place seed in the 13-wrestler bracket at 148 pounds.
“I’m amazing, I’m shocked, I can’t believe this is happening,” Cate said in a Feb. 10, 1993, Sequim Gazette article following the tournament.
“Chad’s hard work toward the end of the season led to his victories, Ziegler said in the article. “In the past, Chad would wrestle great early and run out of gas.”
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.”
His last memory of Cate was with Renee and Charley together with the 2-year-old boy wearing light up shoes and moments later seeing Cate’s feet. He was wearing “flashy” gold wrestling shoes too.
He pulled the gold shoes up from underneath the podium and said, “Renee, when little Charley’s ready, here are his shoes.”
Capt. Kjel Skov, a fellow firefighter and an assistant wrestling coach, said he and Chinn spoke with the wrestling team the morning they learned of Cate’s passing.
“I was nothing but impressed how they stuck together,” he said.
Skov read a note from a team member he received that day about Cate:
“I would say thank you but that would never be enough. You gave everything and more to a small group of kids who had little to no experience on the mat and gave us not only a team but a family.
“When we stepped on the mat it didn’t matter if we were tall, short, athletic, or if it was our first sport. You treated us all the same. You gave everything for us. Always making time even when there was none.
You gave up family time to take us across Washington allowing us to see levels of competition we did not know existed in high school.”
They said Cate helped them meet inspirational coaches and wrestlers, and thanked him and called him “the glue” and that he’ll never be forgotten.
About Cate’s passing
According to Fire District 3 officials, 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; 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 Dungeness, 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 deceased in his bunk by members of his crew when they attempted to wake him at about 7 a.m., according to fire district officials.
According to fire district officials, autopsy results are not available and the district does not plan to discuss the cause of death publicly out of respect for Cate and his loved ones.
Cate’s passing is only the second recorded death 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.
Prior to the memorial service on Saturday, a procession with more than 70 first responder vehicles went through the City of Sequim accompanying Cate’s casket placed above Fire District 3’s antique fire truck. After the service, he was buried at Sequim View Cemetery.
Fire district officials said multiple agencies supported them by covering the three, 24-hour shifts in the fire district’s stations on Saturday so they could attend the service.
On Jan. 13, a procession of local first responders, one that included fire district vehicles from across the North Olympic Peninsula and police vehicles, escorted Cate to Thurston County where an autopsy was performed, and then back through Sequim before delivering him to Sequim Valley Funeral Home.
Flags statewide were ordered at half-mast by Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday in honor of Cate.
Some of Cate’s other posthumous accolades include a brick installed with his name at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Maryland, and a portrait drawn through the Fallen Heroes Project.
Pastor Don Pieper of Chimacum’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer spoke at Saturday’s service about Cate accepting and embracing his Christian faith, and 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.
Members of the Puget Sound and the Snohomish County Firefighters Pipes and Drums groups played during the service including “Amazing Grace” at the end.
A bell was rung prior to dispatch tones placing Cate out of service, followed by a pre-recorded message:
“It is with a heavy heart that Clallam County Fire District 3 says a final goodbye to Captain Chad Cate … It will never be forgotten how committed he was to his community and the fraternity of the fire service.
“It has been said a firefighter never dies. They just burn in the hearts of those they served.
“Captain Cate will live forever in our hearts and will be a part of who we are.
“Captain Cate has responded to his last alarm.
“Captain Chad Cate is now out of service. Never forgotten.”
Donations for Cate family
On behalf of the Cate family, Clallam County Fire District 3 has established a benefit fund in the name of Capt. Charles “Chad” Cate. Donations will support the late firefighter’s family during this difficult time.
If you wish to donate, this fund is the only donation fund approved by the family and can be found on the fire district’s website at .ccfd3.org.
Fire District officials want community members to be aware of the potential of false solicitations and that district representatives and associated groups will not call or request donations on Captain Cate’s behalf.
Kruse dies in line of service in 1978
Dale Kruse, a Sequim volunteer firefighter, died on Aug. 30, 1978, in the line of duty.
The 40-year-old was struck by a fire engine as firegihters reponded to a grass fire just east of sequim.
According to a Sept. 6, 1978, Sequim gazette article, Kruse was killed when he and Tom lowe, also a volunteer firefighter at the time, were putting a fence back up after the fire south of U.S. Highway 101 had been extinguished, when a one-ton engine began to roll backward. According to Washington State patrol reports, Kruse pushed Lo0we out of the way but was unable to get out of the way himself.
Kruse was a 13-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol, erving in the Port Angeles Detachment after eceiving his commission in 1965.
He was a member of the VFW Post 4760 and Sequim Bay yacht Club.