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Shank retiring after 35 years of firefighting

“Being a firefighter is not like other jobs,” said Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue’s Assistant Chief Dean Shank. “You’re on call (24/7). It’s more of a second family.”

For Shank, 56-years-old and retiring March 31, being a firefighter was definitely a “calling.” Even though he’s retiring to devote more time to his family and to teaching, he knows he can always drop by any station in the district for a cup of coffee and good conversation. All his best friends are in the firefighting business. Folks he’s fought fires with, had dinner with, gotten to know their kids, attended parties and picnics with.

“When I look back at the last 35 years, I realize most of my time was spent with the younger firefighters in training,” he said. “You don’t lose that bond — even after you retire.”

He enjoyed teaching new firefighters, and plans on staying busy by continuing to teach fire science at Olympic College. He’ll also act as consultant to other districts. He’s not through with firefighting yet.

Shank was born in Renton, raised on Capitol Hill in Seattle, and moved to Kirkland in 1964. He graduated from Redmond High in 1966.

“My first love was the construction business — which I got involved with when I was 14,” he said. But in 1969, he became fascinated by firefighting, and joined the Kirkland Fire Department.

“They hung a sign out saying ‘Volunteers wanted,’” he laughed.

Eventually he was paid to fight fires, and rose through the ranks to “captain of training.”

He joined the Port of Seattle Fire Department in 1974, and responded to a terrible plane crash that killed eight. He and his men were on scene at a Kirkland hotel fire that killed four. He was first-on-scene at the deadly Kona Village senior citizen-apartments fire, in East Bremerton, about five years ago, where four people died.

He said one never gets used to death in his business. He still feels frustrated over the Kona fire: “By the time we got enough equipment there to fight it, the deaths had already occurred, and we couldn’t save the place.”

There’s new senior housing on the same spot, incorporating new fire code innovations.

Shank is especially affected “when deaths involve children, whether it’s children who died, or were left behind when their family was killed.”

He joined Kitsap Fire District 15 in 1985. He was hired as assistant chief of operations and training. In 1999, the department merged with District 1 to create Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue.

He’s retiring as assistant chief of technical services, managing five divisions: fire prevention, public education, vehicle maintenance, facilities/grounds and supply/inventory.

He also served as consulting drill master in five state academies, 20 county academies; defensive driving instructor for the Evergreen Safety Council; first aid teacher for the state’s Labor & Industry division; instructor in “crash” firefighting; instructor for the state’s Fire Service Training program; and as instructor at various community colleges such as and those in Olympic and those in Bellevue, Edmonds and Big Bend. He has taught in Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Montana. He has an associate degree in fire science earned at North Seattle Community College, 1978.

“I’ve never lost anyone (a firefighter) under my command,” he said. “We don’t lose our people because of our intense training. The Northwest is well known throughout the United States for its training.

“You can’t talk (focus) on the negatives,” he said. “You have to keep focusing on how to keep your losses down, and getting people (civilians) out” of harm’s way.

He and wife Shirley have three daughters, one son, and one grandson. The couple plans to do some travelling to be closer to their family.

“I’m still pretty handy (due to those early years in construction) and will help my kids with projects around their homes.”

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