Longtime South King Fire volunteer Bill Brand dies at 90

Federal Way resident Bill Brand was a volunteer battalion chief during his time with the department in the 1970s.

When a call came in for volunteer firefighters of the Federal Way Fire Department in the 1970s, you could count on Bill Brand to arrive within minutes, quickly pulling up outside of the fire station in his little yellow truck.

William “Bill” Brand, a longtime Federal Way resident, died May 12 from health complications with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Brand celebrated his 90th birthday just a few days prior on May 9.

He spent 10 years as a volunteer firefighter in the 1970s. Fellow volunteers said Brand’s unfailing commitment to the community and his family left an honorable legacy.

Chuck Kahler, a retired former fire chief of South King Fire, spent 47 years in the fire service before retiring in 2017. His career began a few years after Brand joined the department.

The two volunteered together, back at a time when volunteers lived at home and would drive to the station at a moment’s notice of an emergency, compared to today’s structure of firefighters essentially living at the fire station for their shifts.

“If he was home and he was available, Bill was there,” Kahler said.

Kahler remembers several calls when he would open the engine’s doors in preparation and wait for volunteer crew members to arrive so they could respond to the emergency.

“I’d be waiting and all of a sudden, here comes that yellow truck coming down 28th [Avenue],” Kahler said. “You put the gear on, hop in the rig and away we go!”

Brand also became an Emergency Medical Technician after taking a fascination to the world of Emergency Medical Services. As a volunteer, all of the certifications and training were on your own time, Kahler said, which proved Brand’s dedication.

He worked his way up to eventually become a volunteer battalion chief for Federal Way Fire, now known as South King Fire and Rescue. Brand was named the department-wide Officer of the Year in 1977.

The volunteer firefighters used to get about a dollar per call every quarter of the year, at a time when there were three battalions and six fire stations in Federal Way.

The small amount of money was often pooled and spent however the group saw fit, Kahler said, resulting in several fishing trips to Westport or the Kenai River in Alaska — where Brand once caught a 55-pound King Salmon.

“When I think of Bill, I think of an era that was a neat part of the history of the department,” Kahler said. “A time when all of that service you have now was provided by people without compensation and it was just a service simply provided to the community.”

Ed Coutts, a retired assistant chief of South King Fire, transitioned from Seattle Fire to Federal Way in 1980 where he met Brand, a captain for one of the stations at the time. Coutts was one of the voices who recommended Brand be promoted to battalion chief, he said.

When Medic One started in King County, there was also an opening for paramedic candidates. Despite being in his 50s at the time, Brand was accepted and began training, Coutts said.

“Bill was so active … that just meant to me he was the right kind of person,” Coutts said. “Instead of doing everything and doing it poorly, he wanted to go back, take care of his family and be a volunteer to take care of Federal Way.”

Brand also worked as a journeyman printing pressman for The Seattle Times. As a Korean War veteran as an army medic, Brand was a strong believer in his family, his community and his nation, Coutts said.

“He was very respected by the other volunteers and the people we worked with at South King,” he said. “He knew how to take care of people. He was very effective. He knew exactly how to direct the troops and get things done.”

The fire service places you in the middle of difficult and heavy situations, Coutts said.

“You’re working with humans, so you’ve got to understand that and be human,” he said. “Bill was just that way. He knew how to grieve with people and he was very compassionate with his patients.”

At fires and emergencies, Brand was both a knowledgeable and skillful leader, directing crews yet also willing to jump in and do it himself, Coutts said.

“He was always there when we needed him, in all aspects more than just volunteer calls,” Coutts said. If there was a problem in the station, if something needed to be built, or fixed, or cleaned, “you didn’t have to ask him — he found out about it and he was there.”

Although the numbers are fading as the years go on, Coutts said, the fire department retirees, including Brand, often met for breakfast on a weekly basis (pre-pandemic) to catch up and share stories.

He was a dedicated volunteer, eager to help with additional projects, work parties and the community, but always put his family first, the former volunteers agreed.

Brand’s legacy carried on when his son, Patrick, became a volunteer firefighter with the department and served alongside his father from 1972-1977. His grandson, Lt. Ross Anderson, has worked for SKFR since 2008.

“My favorite thing about him is that it was always family-first for him,” Anderson said. Even as his health declined, he said, Brand made it known how proud he was of every person in his family.

As he searched for a specific date, Anderson remarked he was using the spiral calendar his grandpa had started. Each year, Brand would create a family calendar filled with every family member’s birthday, anniversary and other important highlights.

When the family received the calendars on Christmas, it became a game to find who had accidentally been left out or other minor errors, Anderson said.

“He was just ecstatic,” Anderson said of when he told Brand he had gotten the job with South King Fire.

Brand would often ask him about the department and Anderson’s own goals. He also gave Anderson the old Federal Way Fire badge from his uniform, which Anderson keeps safely hidden with other important items needed within an arm’s reach.

Anderson noted his grandpa’s pride in his community involvement as a fire service volunteer. The years of dedication, lifelong friendships and a family tie summed up in Kahler’s revelation:

“Fire service is a lifestyle,” Kahler said. “I think it becomes a part of you even though it’s not about you.”