Initial autopsy results show the on-duty death of a 46-year-old Sequim firefighter in early January was the result of natural causes due to heart disease.
Nathan Millet, deputy coroner with the Clallam County Prosecutor’s Office, said the Jan. 16 autopsy shows Capt. Charles “Chad” Cate II died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
A full autopsy report is in the process of being conducted and would likely be released to Clallam County Fire District 3, Sequim Police Department and Washington State Labor & Industries in the next week, Millet said on March 3.
“At his age, to die from heart disease, it’s unusual and rare but certainly not unheard of,” Millet said.
A longtime Sequim native, a first responder and a youth sports coach, Cate was found deceased in his fire district bunk in the early morning hours of Jan. 12.
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.
Cate was then transported to Thurston County for the autopsy. Millet said Clallam County contracts with Thurston because Clallam does not have a facility to perform autopsies.
Millet said the Prosecutor’s Office in particular wanted a full toxicology workup on Cate because he had responded to a fire not long before his death; results came back negative for any toxins in Cate’s system.
“One of the things I was concerned of [was that] he might have been exposed to something at the fire,” Millet said. “We wanted to rule out any byproducts from combustion.”
When someone in Cate’s profession dies while at work it triggers a coroner’s investigation and “almost certainly” an autopsy, Millet said.
Fire District 3 Chief Ben Andrews said the district is looking at a more in-depth cardiac health screening process.
“That’s something we’re looking into; it’s expensive,” he said.
“I don’t see us doing anything drastic,” he said in terms of changes, other than encouraging healthy lifestyles and providing good health care. He said firefighters are allowed 90 minutes per shift to exercise.
“Obviously, it wasn’t training issues (or) an equipment issue,” he said of Cate’s passing.
Andrews said the district will have a larger discussion when they get the full autopsy report.
An estimated 1,000 people filled the Sequim High School gymnasium to mourn Cate on Jan. 21.
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.