Blaze, NKF&R’s fire dog, dies at 13

KINGSTON — Blaze, the famous North Kitsap Fire & Rescue dog, died Tuesday following a brief illness. In every incarnation, be it ambassador, teacher or fashion model, Blaze was a beloved member of the community.

He was born on June 7, 1994, in Kingston to Reba and Buttons, members of the Gary Steele Family. The Steeles knew from the beginning the spirited dalmation was destined for a career in a fire department. NKF&R members agreed and adopted Blaze after he was weaned from his mother. Blaze was introduced to the community when the fire department put out a call to the community for names suited to a fire dog.

He was initially assigned to the fire department’s operations division, where he was treated to his own seat on the fire engine and got to respond to emergencies. He soon requested a transfer by chewing through radio equipment and seat upholstery. His transfer was granted to the community services division. There, he assisted fire fighters with fire and injury prevention efforts.

“Unusually calm and friendly for his breed, Blaze charmed citizens – young and old – with his exceptional good looks, his loving disposition, his patience with children and his impressive demonstration of the ‘stop, drop and roll’ technique,” Michele Laboda, NKF&R community service specialist stated in a prepared release. “He lived in the fire station throughout his career and, between station tours and classroom visits, provided consistent service to firefighters by cleaning their plates and keeping their bunks warm when emergencies called crews away from meals and rest times.”

Blaze frequented local elementary schools and preschools. It was on these visits he began to accrue a fan base. On his 10 birthday, Blaze’s party drew a crowd of 100 people. Other public appearances included a stint as Grand Marshal of Kingston Fourth of July parade and was featured in the 2006 Kitsap Humane Society calendar.

Although dalmations are associated with fire fighters — they used to serve as calming companions for the teams of horses the that pulled fire pumpers — their presence in fire departments is quite rare. Blaze, being the exception to the rule, attracted attention from local and national media. He was featured in newspaper and television stories. He also earned seven minutes of international fame through a live interview on CNN.

A succession of injuries and illnesses plagued Blaze as he aged but, thanks to the firefighters’ love and the community’s generosity, he recovered from several serious situations. Approaching 14, he was preparing to retire from active duty as worsening arthritis caused pain and threatened his mobility. Finally, a growth on his throat severely hampered his ability to eat, drink and breathe. Firefighters made the terribly difficult decision to spare their partner a painful death, and chose to end Blaze’s life in a peaceful and controlled manner with the assistance of his longtime vet, Dr. Jim Moore at Apple Tree Cove Animal Hospital.

Blaze is survived by his family — countless current and former firefighters — and an entire community of friends.

A public memorial service is planned for 3 p.m. at NKF&R’s headquarters fire station (26642 Miller Bay Road NE near Kingston) on Saturday, March 15th.

In lieu of flowers, Blaze’s family suggests donations be made in his memory to one of three charities: NKF&R Fire & Life Safety Fund, 26642 Miller Bay Road NE, Kingston, WA 98346; Kitsap Humane Society, 9167 Dickey Road NW, Silverdale, WA 98383; or NKF&R Community Partnership Fund, 26642 Miller Bay Road NE, Kingston, WA 98346.

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