A longtime Sequim native, a first responder and a youth sports coach, Capt. Charles “Chad” Cate was found deceased in his Clallam County Fire District 3 bunk in the early morning hours of Jan. 12.
He was 46.
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.; 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 deceased 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.
Cate’s autopsy results are still pending as of press time.
Cate is survived by his wife Renee, a 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.
A full fire service memorial is set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at Sequim high School, 601 N. Sequim Ave. The public and members of the fire service are welcome to attend.
An expected turnout of 80 fire vehicles and as many as 1,000 people are expected to attend.
Motorists in the Sequim and Carlsborg areas can expect periodic slowdowns as the memorial procession moves immediately before the service. (To join in the procession of fire apparatus before the memorial, participants must register in advance at tinyurl.com/ChadCateMemorial.)
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.
“We’ve seen our industry come together at times like this and even lent a hand,” Fire District3 chief Ben Andrews said in a press release.
“But until now, we had no idea how truly valuable it is to be surrounded by our brothers and sisters.”
‘Unique way of communicating’
Cate, a 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.
Scott Dickson, Cate’s longtime shift partner, said he and Cate first met in the mid-1990s as volunteers, and they then both applied for three open positions with the fire district. Cate was such a good candidate, Dickson recalled, that the fire district waived the age requirement (Cate wasn’t quite 21) to hire him. Dickson was hired a few years later.
“Days and weeks [later], somebody’s at the door. It’s Chad,” Dickson recalled. “He was concerned about how I felt, that there was no animosity (between us). We had a really good talk.”
Starting out on C shift together and then moving together to A shift, Dickson said he and Cate were together for just about every shift for the past 22 years.
“We had a unique way of communicating,” Dickson said. “It wouldn’t matter the nature of the calls.”
Firefighter Chris Corbin, who is also president of the IAFF Local District 7 firefighters union, joined the district in August of 2010, but he met Cate at his previous position with Olympic Ambulance.
“Since the day I got hired, it was a big brother relationship,” Corbin said. “[Chad was] one of those guys I always leaned on, that I’ve always been able to talk to.”
Corbin said Cate was unique in that he never sought out conflict or started a rift with anyone.
“He was a very relaxed, mellow, level-headed guy; he never presented anything different” Corbin said of Cate.
“I never once had an argument with Chad; that goes for a lot guys on our shift.”
Derrell Sharp, Port Angeles Fire Department’s fire chief, a 30-year veteran of the fire service in Sequim, worked with Cate for several years before joining PA’s fire district in 2021.
“Charlie (Chad) was one of those guys you loved to work with; he was kind, considerate, and light-hearted,” Sharp said. “He was an exceptionally caring and compassionate paramedic. He was a solid firefighter; one you knew would come to your rescue if you ever found yourself in peril.
“Charlie was a dedicated paramedic preceptor whose legacy will certainly live on through the care and compassion he instilled in the next generation. He was a genuine and sincere friend who will be greatly missed. This one hurts.”
Clallam County Fire District 2 Chief Jake Patterson said he graduated from Sequim High School with Cate’s older sister and knew him growing up and while starting and continuing fire service together.
“He was always jovial and friendly,” he said. “He always had a positive attitude, was hard working, and really loved the community.”
Dickson said Cate would always look out for his fellow district colleagues, though a conversation or making sure everyone was well-fed.
“He was genuinely concerned about people; he wanted this whole department together,” Dickson said.
Corbin said reactions to Cate’s passing has hit people differently.
“Its absolutely devastating; it’s a crushing blow for us,” he said. “I have not held my feelings in for sure. Some guys here, they still haven’t grieved yet. It’s kind of all over the board.”
Supporter of sports
Cate worked as a high school wrestling coach at SHS, first as an assistant and then, mid-way through the 2019-2020 season, as head coach of the Wolves.
Sequim School District officials said high school staff and wrestling team members were notified on Jan. 12 of Cate’s passing.
“Support is in place at the high school for students and staff,” district officials said in a message sent home to parents/guardians later that day.
“We appreciate his selfless service to our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with Chad’s family, friends, and co-workers during this difficult time,” they said.
Steve Chinn, Fire District 3 fire commissioner and former SHS wrestling head coach, will help oversee the team.