OSO — Joe Bly, a Seattle firefighter who was an accomplished prankster and an even better outdoorsman, died early Saturday in a one-car accident while returning to his Oso home from an Everett Silvertips game.
He was 51.
Bly, a sports fanatic with season tickets to Silvertips hockey and to University of Washington football games, had attended a Tips game and was driving home on Highway 530 when his car struck a guardrail about 2 a.m. not far from his home, according to a Washington State Patrol report.
Officials said he died at the scene.
A career Seattle firefighter, Bly learned his trade in the U.S. Air Force. He was part of an eight-member crew that worked out of Fire Station 8 on Queen Anne Hill. Gib Mastri, who commuted to work with Bly, said he was a “truckman,” which Mastri described as a firefighter who “opens up roofs and walls and does the search and rescue stuff inside burning buildings.”
He said Bly had turned down other jobs because “he truly liked the truck work.”
Mastri said Bly was known at the station house as the consummate joker.
“He loved to needle you and rib you and he was quite the prankster,” Mastri said.
Bly was also an individualist who for years wore his hair well past his shirt collar in defiance of department regulations, Mastri noted.
He said during the 2006 Apple Cup, Bly bet colleagues that if his beloved UW Huskies fell to WSU’s Cougars, he would get a haircut.
“The Cougs won that year and we all jumped on the rigs and drove Joe to the corner to get his hair cut and we all took pictures,” Masti said. “This year, we all said, ‘You guys should make the same bet.’ And Joe wouldn’t have any part of that. Instead, we all kept putting $20 bills into a pot for him if he would cut it high and tight. It got up to $160 and Joe wouldn’t do it.”
More important than Bly’s signature long hair, Mastri said, was the compassion he displayed on emergency medical calls. “Where some of us might get frustrated when we saw a patient over and over and their call might really not be an emergency, Joe was always compassionate with everyone he dealt with in the public,” Mastri said. “He treated the women like they were his mother or his sister and the men like they were his father or his brother. He was very respectful and very kind.”
Something Bly wasn’t very good at was cooking, Mastri said, allowing that he did make an exceptional salad. There will likely be no salad next Saturday at the fire team’s annual Christmas party — that had been Bly’s assignment.
Firefighter Dan Beisel, a close friend who also worked at Station 8, described Bly as a department legend who lived life by his own code and ignored things he didn’t personally believe to be important.
“He was a living legend in the Seattle Fire Department in the way he carried himself and the way he didn’t take anything from anybody,” Beisel said. “He’s had chiefs telling him he needs to cut his hair or he’ll face charges and he’s like, ehhh.”
Beisel said that while Bly didn’t take himself too seriously, he took his work seriously.
“There are only a handful of people that I would trust my life with as a firefighter, and Joe was one of them,” Beisel said.
Beisel said Bly had such an intense love of hockey and the outdoors that “deep down, he truly felt he was meant to be a Canadian.”
An avid fly fisher, Bly recently spent a couple weeks fishing for steelhead in Canada with Eric Nordstrom, a fellow member of the Evergreen Fly Fishing Club of Everett.
Nordstrom said he’d gotten Bly a book on the history of hockey during the trip and was astounded at what he already knew. “He knew everything about the sport,” Nordstrom said. “There are certain things he just had a true passion for: fishing, hockey, animals and friends. Everyone was a friend to Joe.”
After traveling to Ireland a few years ago, Joe returned to declare the Irish among the friendliest people on earth. He told friends he rarely had to find a place to eat in Ireland because nearly every day someone would take him home and say to his wife: “I’ve brought me friend Joe home for dinner.”
Bly, who lived on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, was an accomplished fisherman who liked to stand in his yard and watch salmon swim upriver to spawn. He had a love for old fly fishing gear and often bought and used Hardy reels made decades ago in England. Bly fished with some of best steelheaders throughout the Northwest.
Scott O’Donnell, a full-time fishing guide from Oregon who once was Bly’s neighbor in Oso, talked about a trip Bly made earlier this month to the Grande Ronde River, where he fished with O’Donnell and two other professional anglers.
“He outfished everybody this year,” O’Donnell said, describing days where he and the other guides caught nothing and Bly was the only one with success. “He had that good karma, and he was deserving of it because he was such a wonderful person.”
O’Donnell described Bly as “the first guy to talk smack and the last guy to get angry.” He told of a night recently where a friend who’d had a few drinks was angry because Bly was talking and keeping him awake. The man leaped out of bed and grabbed Joe, who just laughed, then told him to “shut your pie hole and go back to bed,” O’Donnell said.
“That was Joe,” he said. “He never lost his cool.”
Fishing friend Dolan Wernet of Marysville said Bly focused on living life. On Saturday he was thinking of a trip with Bly several years ago to an area of Alaska with many big brown bears. “I can still see him waving his .45 in the air and saying, ‘Ain’t no grizzly going to get me,’ ” Wernet said. “That was Joe’s attitude. He lived life to the fullest.”
Wernet said he has a picture of Bly and himself “standing on the beach in Alaska, smoking a cigar, drinking brandy and loving life.”
“It’s a tough day. It’s like losing a piece of my soul,” Wernet said of Bly’s death.
Bly’s father, Dale Bly of Arlington, said that his son focused on life, not his work. “He didn’t want any praise,” the elder Bly added. “He didn’t talk about ‘I’ve done this and I’ve done that.’ “
The senior Bly said he recalled, Saturday, the 1992 movie “A River Runs Through It,” which tells the story of two fly fishing sons of a Presbyterian minister. “One of them got killed and his father said he was a fine fisherman,” Bly said, adding, “I think Joe was a fine fisherman.”
Service arrangements for Bly are incomplete. They are expected to be at Immaculate Conception Church in Everett.