25 years after fatal arson, firefighter Gary Parks’ sacrifice honored

EVERETT — The life Gary Parks gave meant more than he ever could have imagined, former Snohomish County executive Bob Drewel said Thursday.

Parks, an 18-year veteran of the Everett Fire Department, was killed battling an arson at Everett Community College on Feb. 16, 1987.

A memorial for the 25th anniversary of his death was held Thursday at the college’s Baker Hall. The small auditorium was packed with police officers and firefighters from around the region.

About a dozen of Parks’ relatives filled the first few rows.

Drewel was president of the college when the fire broke out. He thanked Parks’ family for their strength since that “deeply sad day.”

It was a time for memory and loss.

Those who gathered wanted to remember Parks’ service and legacy. They shared funny stories of a man known for his big heart, humor and pranks.

Parks’ eldest daughter, Erin Van Ry, spoke on behalf of her mother, Kathy Parks.

The family treasures their memories of Gary Parks, Van Ry said. They try to be strong and keep on moving, despite their grief.

They also hope that one day the mystery of who set the fire can be solved, she said.

Firefighters spoke of how losing Gary Parks a quarter-century ago devastated them. Yet they know he died doing what he loved: protecting his community.

Parks’ death left a “huge hole” that can’t be forgotten, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said.

“Firefighters are special people,” Stephanson said. “They have a special bond with one another, and they touch many lives in the community.”

Over the years, those who knew Parks have looked for ways to remember and honor him, Stephanson said.

Still, they remain in Parks’ debt, college President David Beyer said.

“All of these tributes to Gary Parks pale in comparison to the sacrifice he made 25 years ago,” Beyer said.

Ken Dammand, a retired fire captain, read a poem he wrote about the deaths of Parks and another firefighter. The poem described how the ghosts of firefighters are always near, and are there when the unthinkable happens, and crews are trapped by flames.

If it’s their time, the “Smoky Joes” are there to greet their comrade, Dammand said, showing the dying firefighter his new locker at the fire station in heaven.

The Smoky Joes are also there for those who survive, comforting them with this message:

“Tell the boys, we’re always here.”

Read more about Gary Parks

The horror of that night has never left Parks’ family and fellow firefighters

With too little evidence to solve the case, arson investigation remains in limbo

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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