Walla Walla family has firefighting in their blood

Father and son Larry and Freddy Hector have a history of service but just this weekend fought their first structure fire together.

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Father and son firefighters Larry Hector, right, and Freddy Hector talk with other area firefighters after a morning working on a training fire exercise together at an abandoned house in College Place.

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Larry Hector (blue helmet) and his son Freddy Hector (red helmet) lean shoulder to shoulder to keep an eye on a training fire inside an abandoned home at 430 Owens Road in College Place Saturday morning. Working a fire together for the first time, the Hectors ignited and insured the safety of those participating in the training fire exercise Saturday.

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Father and son firefighters Larry Hector, right, and Freddy Hector talk with other area firefighters after a morning working on a training fire exercise together at an abandoned house in College Place.

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Old, dry wood from an abandoned house in College Place fuels a raging training fire set to burn the house to the ground after firefighting training exercises inside Saturday morning.

WALLA WALLA -- Lightning can strike the same spot twice, when that spot is the heart of a boy who looks up to his parents and their service.

The Hectors have put out many fires on the old family farms in the hills of Eureka, where in the middle of summer all it takes is one flash to send eyes to the horizon looking for smoke.

"I remember in those days when the lighting would strike and start the wheat fires. And we would be outside looking at the smoke," Larry Hector said.

That was more than half a century ago, when the thunder would rumble across the golden hills of the wheat-covered Palouse.

Minutes later, the Hector's old-fashioned phone with a steel bell clapper would ring, and Jackie Hector would rush to what she knew was probably the start of a long night.

She was a dispatcher for Eureka's first volunteer fire department. And her husband, Leland, Larry Hector's father, was one of the community's first volunteer firefighters.

Jackie would take calls all night and dispatch Leland and the other volunteers to knock down wheat fires.

"It was a good feeling. It was exciting, that they were out there fighting fires. It is kind of like watching Fourth of July, watching fireworks," Hector said.

A few years later, in the 1960s, before the influx of lawsuits and insurance regulations, at age 13 Larry Hector was conscripted by his father to fight fires in the fields.

"You can't do it any more. Now you got to be a member of the fire department ... I was conscripted a lot when I was younger," Larry said.

The rules and equipment may have changed, but lightning still strikes like it used to. And it did again, almost three decades later, in the heart of Freddy Hector.

"Well my mom was the dispatcher. It was before 911. And so I remember as a kid that on lightning storm nights, sitting by the radio and mom dispatching the firefighters out to the wheat fires all night long," Freddy said, describing almost to a T what his father, Larry, described of his parents, Leland and Jackie.

At 34, Freddy is too young to have seen his grandfather and grandmother team up the way his parents did. But he knows their legacy, because it struck him, too.

"I don't ever remember not wanting to be a fireman; it was what I wanted to do since I was a little kid, and I wanted to do it because I really looked up to my dad. And I wanted to be like him," Freddy said.

Like his father, Freddy watched as his mother, Tina, and father worked together.

Tina would answer the dedicated fire dispatch phone. Larry would be at her disposal, along with the rest of the Eureka Volunteer Fire Department.

"Instead of having 911 they had an emergency number that ran to our house. And Mom would set off tones and that would open up radios. And she would dispatch them," Freddy said.

There were other fires. Brush fires. Structure fires. But lighting was what kept them busy.

"Sometimes all night if there was a good lighting storm," Freddy said.

And like his father, one day Freddy would seize his rite of passage, this time on the back of a grass truck, where the 15-year-old fought a 10 foot wall of flames.

"I remember one time we were fighting a fire and I would ride on the back of the fire truck and he (Freddy's father) would drive. And he is inside and I said to him it was getting hot back here. And he said put the fire out and it wouldn't be hot anymore," Freddy said.

"Truth was known he probably was riding with me before then," Larry Hector said, remembering more details than his son.

"If them kids showed and interest, then they went along. He had to be 12, maybe 14 years old, when I actually put him on a hose. And I put him on a fire. It was a wildfire out in Starbuck. And he actually got broken in pretty young."

Though they no longer live in Eureka, the Hectors still fight fires. Larry volunteers for Walla Walla Country Fire District Six in Touchet. Freddy has moved beyond the scope volunteer, and is a paid firefighter and paramedic with the Walla Walla Fire Department.

The two rarely fight fires together anymore. But on Saturday they had the chance to fight their first structure fire together.

It was a training fire. And old farm house on Owens Road needed to come down. Because of its seclusion, structure and size, it was perfect for training new volunteers from Districts Four and Six and College Place.

Larry Hector was there to lend a hand in training, under the respectful leadership of his son, who was in charge of operations inside the burning house.

"For me, it is a role reversal, and an opportunity at 63 to be able to spend my time with my son. And that is something I will never be able to put a price on. It is kind of a gift," Larry said.

And it was a chance to finally work together to put out a structure fire.

Occasionally father and son still work together on occasional medical calls in Touchet.

As a Touchet volunteer and EMT, Larry arrives on scene first. But it is now his son who brings him assurance.

"It's a really proud moment for me, and it is really kind of reassuring," Larry said, explaining what he feels when he faces a complex medical situation and would prefer a paramedic on scene.

"When the medics come on scene, as an EMT you feel relieved. And now it's my son. And it's really a good feeling," Larry said.

Just like it was two decades ago for Freddy.

"It (the flames) could be 10 feet tall, easily bigger. I don't remember being too scared. I trusted my dad."

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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