WENATCHEE — Local firefighters stood beside their fallen “brother,” Battalion Chief Garet Rasmussen, to the very end.
Every day and night since Rasmussen’s June 12 death of a heart attack, at least two firefighters have been stationed at the funeral home to watch over his body. Another firefighter stayed with his wife and children.
On Saturday morning, they lifted Rasmussen’s flag-covered casket onto a fire engine, draped with a long black cloth.
A second fire engine carried Rasmussen’s wife, Allyson, and their two kids, 5-year-old Jostin and 3-year-old Jalyn to a formal memorial service, reserved for firefighters who died in the line of duty.
The two yellow engines led a procession of about 40 emergency vehicles from East Wenatchee, across the Odabashian Bridge to Wenatchee Avenue, and down Fifth Street to the Town Toyota Center. An 18-foot American flag hung from two tall fire ladders across Walla Walla Avenue.
An estimated 2,000 people came to honor the 38-year-old firefighter, said event spokesman Ettore Castellente. More than 300 firefighters in uniforms and shined black shoes stood at attention and saluted Rasmussen as the engine slowly rolled by. Their jackets displayed the colorful insignias of more than a dozen, some from as far away as Alaska and Montana.
Jostin clung to his mother’s arm with both hands as they walked into the events center. A family member carried Jalyn, followed by a crowd of family members and friends.
“He was part of our family,” said Fire Chief Mike Burnett of Chelan County Fire District 1. He looked toward the front row, at Rasmussen’s wife and kids. “And his family will always be part of us. We make that commitment to you, Allyson.”
The morning he died, Rasmussen was on call as battalion chief for Chelan County Fire District 1 and Douglas County Fire District 2 on June 12. At about 2 a.m., he responded to a traffic accident on Highway 97 in Douglas County. He returned home to wait for the next call, and suffered a heart attack.
Rasmussen was promoted to the rank of battalion chief just 12 days before his death. Brian Brett was promoted alongside him as battalion chief for Wenatchee Fire Department.
“We had plans to do training together for the wildland fire season,” Brett said. The two decided to wait until after Brett’s vacation.
“Who would have thought?” he said, choking back tears.
Fellow firefighters shared stories of Rasmussen, who was known for greeting his friends and coworkers with
“Hey, brother” and listing their phone numbers in his cell phone as “Brother Kunz” or “Brother Larson.” He loved to hunt deer, fish for salmon and take his family camping and hiking. He was a man who trained hard to stay “quarterback fit” and lead by example for the rest of the department. He once organized a dozen firefighters to visit young cancer patients at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane.
A radio voice of Jessica Fauconnier, the emergency dispatcher who took the 911 call from Rasmussen’s family on June 12, crackled over the speakers announcing Rasmussen’s final alarm, a longtime tradition to honor a fallen firefighter.
Rasmussen “has returned home safely where he awaits his next assignment,” she said. “The chief and department members thank you for your service to our community and will never forget your honor, courage and duty.”
Quiet sniffles and sobs came from the audience as a team of drummers and bagpipe players marched out to the floor to play “Amazing Grace.” For Jeff Stephens of Douglas County Fire District 2, the final alarm was the most emotional part of the ceremony.
“It was just the finality that Garet won’t be there with us the next time we respond to a call,” he said. “He was a wonderful person, a great friend and a great firefighter. We’re going to miss him.”
Rachel Schleif: 664-7139