Colfax hero Jim Krouse dies a legend

Friends, colleagues remember former Colfax fire chief, trained new firefighters in to his 70s



Being a firefighter was just who Krouse was. He said the former chief did it for over 50 years.

KASSANDRA VOGEL, Evergreen reporter

The death of former Colfax Fire Chief Jim Krouse left not only an absence in the department but in the hearts of those who knew him. 

“The whole community is feeling the loss,” said Michael Chapman, Colfax Fire Department chief. “They see it in our eyes.”

Chapman said when Krouse retired as fire chief in 2010, he became even more of a focal figure for the department. At 76, he was still training new firefighters.

Always in the middle of the action, Krouse would jump up in the hose bed of a fire engine just like any other firefighter. He helped newer firefighters deploy hose over and over until they really felt comfortable, Chapman said. 

“Krouse was the definition of leading by example. He didn’t mind if it took one time or twenty-five,” he said. 

Krouse had a quiet power to him. He did not have to yell to make a point. Actually, the softer he spoke, the more people would listen, Chapman said. 

Being a firefighter was just who Krouse was. He said the former chief did it for over 50 years.

Krouse exemplified the importance of staying calm for the entire department. When stuff hits the fan, the community looks to the department to stay calm, and if they are unable, mistakes are made, said Scott Kruse, Colfax Fire Department captain.  

“He had a favorite saying,” Kruse said. “When we go on a scene, it’s always chaos. We bring order to the chaos.”

Krouse was a member of the critical stress incident debriefing team. The department has held a few debriefings for the crews that were with him when he passed, Chapman said.

“He always told me it’s okay to cry,” Kruse said. “He would say you’ll see me cry at these.”


Now, an empty chair sits on the team, Chapman said. 

Krouse’s impact stretched beyond Colfax and Whitman County communities. All other districts and cities that have had contact with Krouse were invited to the debriefings as well, he said. 

“I think his biggest fear was listening to a call and not being able to be part,” Chapman said. “I think he was starting to have those thoughts in his mind – when do I truly pass the torch?”

Krouse provided Chapman with guidance and backup throughout his career, which he said he loved. 

“I had everything right there with him beside me. He was there, supporting me, guiding me, letting me vent,” Chapman said. “I may be the chief, but he was the chief.”

The day Krouse died started off like any other. He was busy, doing his job and helping others, Chapman said. 

“He didn’t go up there expecting the end. He went up there to help and to be a good steward and to do his part, he always wanted to be there to do his part, whatever the role was,” Chapman said. “That’s ultimately where he parted.”

When Chapman first got the call regarding a fallen peer, he said dispatch could not tell him who it was. When he heard the victim’s age, he knew immediately it was Krouse. 

“He always told us there were two ways he wanted to die – either hunting or fighting fire,” Kruse said. “He died doing what he loved.”

Kruse met Krouse as a kid in the 70s when his dad was a volunteer firefighter. He remembers Christmas parties at the station as a child and a couple trucks the kids used to climb on. 

“My dad always tried to stop us from doing it and chief Krouse looked at my dad and said, ‘Let them be,'” Kruse said. “They could be future firefighters.”

Sure enough, both Kruse and Krouse’s son Dan became firefighters. 

Chapman said everyone wanted to pay their respects as the news of Krouse’s passing spread. People lined up as the ambulance drove him to the funeral home past the station as a final goodbye. 

“We’re all looking at each other with red eyes. We’re all feeling the sadness,” Chapman said. “A few of us told some remembrances and started the healing process there.” 

Chapman told a story about one of his first calls at the department.

Early in his career, the department responded to a medical call at 3 a.m. Chapman said he was at the station waiting for an ambulance crew to come in. He opened the bay door, looked down the block and saw somebody riding a mountain bike toward the station. 

“I’m going okay, this is really odd. This is Colfax, Washington, at three in the morning. We don’t have a lot of mountain biking going on,” he said. ”Sure enough, there is Chief Krouse coming down for the call.”

Krouse lived only two blocks away from the station. He arrived on a mountain bike, grabbed his gear and hopped on the call to help another person, Chapman said. 

“I truly lack that perfect definition for him,” he said. “I honestly don’t know if the term legend is correct – he was Krouse.”

Coming back from the hospital he felt a need to be on hallowed ground. Chapman said he went up to the scene where Krouse passed. 

Chapman started up the hill just north of the station. At the scene, the investigation was still ongoing. 

After checking in with everyone, he made his way to the very top of the hill where Krouse’s truck was parked, just before the edge of the burn. 

“I looked down and there is the entire town of Colfax – the whole community beautifully nestled in the valley,” Chapman said. “The wheat fields have all been harvested, so it’s that golden color and the sun was going down … That is what I saw. This was the area that he passed away protecting, everything right there.”

He said it was like something out of a movie. 

“I was sad and relieved. I wanted everybody else there with me to see that same thing,” Chapman said. “It was sad but it’s exactly what I think he wanted.”