Rain or shine, in-between science experiments and during meals, Eric Crecelius was on call 24/7 to serve Dungeness.
The firefighter/emergency medical technician (EMT) for Clallam County Fire District 3 retired at the end of 2019 — marking 43 years, or about 15,800 days, of continuous volunteer service for the community just north of Sequim.
“For Fire District 3’s history, no one has served as a volunteer longer,” said Steve Vogel, retired Fire District 3 Chief.
Crecelius, one of the district’s first EMTs, served in Dungeness at Station 31 to fires and aide calls from the Dungeness Recreation Area to the west and to Jamestown Road to the east, from the northern waters to Woodcock Road.
“He was always consistent and responded to almost everything; if he wasn’t at work, he’d respond,” Vogel said. “I’d call him a real dedicated community citizen, someone who cares a lot about people.”
Crecelius, 74, retired from Battelle/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim in 2010 but maintained his volunteer status responding to aide calls until last December.
He turned off his emergency scanner on Dec. 31.
“(My wife Jean is) glad I’m through making noise and rushing off at inopportune times,” Crecelius said.
However, she was supportive of his volunteer efforts for 43 years, he said.
Crecelius moved to the area on July 4, 1976, from Richland after receiving a graduate degree from the University of Washington and working for Battelle investigating industrial equipment’s effects of trace contaminants on marine life.
He transferred his work to the then-newer Sequim lab.
Crecelius saw a notice in a newspaper that volunteer firefighters were needed, so he joined up that fall.
“It sounded interesting,” Crecelius said, “And there was a need to help out in the community and protect your house or your neighbor’s from a grass fire.”
For the cause
Along for volunteer training with Crecelius was his neighbor Rich Abel, he recalls, being trained by Art Rogers and Dell Carroll who lived near the station and drove the fire truck to fires.
In the late 1970s, Sequim’s volunteers responded to only fires with a few calls each month, at most, he said.
“Grass fires were relatively common then. There was a lot more outside burning at the time,” Crecelius said. “In the winter, there were more chimney fires.”
In his 40-plus years of service the fire call load hasn’t changed much, he said, with chimney fires reducing due to public awareness of self-care.
The biggest change came after the fire district added aid calls to its call loads with trained paramedics and EMTs.
“They encouraged volunteers to do it; it wasn’t required,” he said.
Vogel said Crecelius stayed consistent in his training from the beginning.
“He always had a good attitude and was willing to help and train other people,” Vogel said.
That carried to the field, too.
“He was pretty darn accurate on fires and medical calls,” Vogel said. “He was always a good help. I always felt, ‘Oh good, competent hands to help me.’”
Around the time he retired, Crecelius opted to stop firefighting and stick to aid calls.
“I realized I’m not as strong as I was,” he said. “I felt by being there I could be putting people in danger like if I went up on a roof with a chainsaw.”
With Sequim seeing an increase most years in aide calls, fellow firefighters/EMTs said Crecelius’ impact was felt.
Blaine Zechenelly, disaster planner/EMT with the fire district, served in Dungeness with Crecelius for about five years.
“He’s a terrific guy and he’s been a huge asset, especially in the Dungeness area,” Zechenelly said.
He said part of EMT certification requires considerable training and a physical.
“(To do it for 43 years) is a testimony to his ability,” Zechenelly said. “He’s in a rare class.”
If a volunteer EMT arrives before a career paramedic or EMT, their job is to get everything ready and give the career person a report, Vogel said.
“Eric was one of those people who excelled,” he said. “(Those seconds and minutes) matter big time.”
In his eary volunteer career, Crecelius said, aid calls were somewhat rare. Over the years they grew to at least one a day in Dungeness.
“It was rare at first but became more common, with a lot of it helping someone get back into bed,” he said.
Vogel said in the 1980s people didn’t call 9-1-1 as much unless things were critical, but that has changed.
“Nowadays people are pretty liberal about calling,” he said.
Of the many, many calls and training Crecelius reported to, a few stand out to him:
A driver got his truck stuck in mud at the Oyster House on Dungeness Landing, so Crecelius and other volunteers placed wood planks to get out onto the soft mud and pull the man out.
Another man was reported missing after going for a walk on the Dungeness Spit to the New Dungeness Lighthouse. After gearing up and beginning the search, the man was found about one-fourth-of-a-mile along the spit.
His favorite training took place in abandoned buildings that were set on fire, where he and other firefighters had to find and drag out a 180-pound mannequin.
“That was some of our best training,” Crecelius said.
When he started volunteering in Dungeness, there was a 10-year tradition of collecting food for those in-need each fall.
“The community was really good at giving,” he said. “We’d get about one to two tons each year.”
Serving as a volunteer firefighter didn’t interfere with his day-to-day life, Crecelius said.
“I spent some time each week training and occasionally on a Saturday,” he said.
Protecting his family and neighbors was a perk, too.
“Seeing a lot of accidents and medical incidents makes you more aware and a little safer in your own life,” he said.
Post-firefighting, Crecelius continues to volunteer with Sequim students, advising science fair teams at Sequim Middle School and Sequim High School once a week.
He brings them to the Sequim Marine Sciences Lab on occasion, too.
He also spends time with his wife Jean, an Ironman marathon competitor, and the couple have two sons and three grandchildren.
For more information about Clallam County Fire District 3’s volunteer program, visit ccfd3.org or call 360-683-4242.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.