Battalion Chief James Scragg learned two things in the 1995 Pang warehouse fire that killed four of his comrades, including a young member...
Battalion Chief James Scragg learned two things in the 1995 Pang warehouse fire that killed four of his comrades, including a young member of his own crew: Nothing is more important than the safety of the people who work for you. And nothing about life is certain.
“Never for one second of one day did he take it for granted that he would get tomorrow,” said his wife, Stacey Baker.
Mr. Scragg, whom most people simply called Jimmy, died Thursday (Jan. 17) of lung cancer, which he is presumed to have developed because of his 30 years’ fighting fires for the Seattle Fire Department. He was 54.
Mr. Scragg was burned and barely survived the Pang warehouse fire of Jan. 5, 1995, which was intentionally set by Martin Pang in an insurance-fraud scheme. The four firefighters who died included Jim Brown, 25, who was on Mr. Scragg’s crew.
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Mr. Scragg was one of the first into the building, and he knew something was wrong when he saw a flash. He trained a hose on his crew as he and crew members caught fire, Baker said.
“He used everything he had, crawled to concrete and made it to the door,” said Baker.
After the fire, Mr. Scragg was known for training and working his crew members hard, but he worked himself harder, and firefighters lined up to work for him.
James Herschel Scragg was born May 7, 1953, in Spokane. His father was in the Air Force and the family moved frequently, but he spent much of his youth in Olympia. He joined the Seattle Fire Department in 1978.
Battalion Chief Bryan Hastings, a longtime friend and colleague, said Mr. Scragg was a “terrific leader” and a mentor to many. Hastings said Mr. Scragg once saved him when a collapsing stairwell trapped them both.
“The best way I can sum him up, he’s just one of those guys you could always count on,” Hastings said.
Mr. Scragg worked his way up the ranks of the department to eventually head Battalion 5, which includes seven fire stations and the department’s Technical Rescue Team. He was also a founding member of the local Urban Search and Rescue Team.
Even off the clock, Mr. Scragg read avidly to learn about new techniques and equipment. He got frustrated when people didn’t do their best, and he “glowed with pride when they did a good job,” Baker said.
Mr. Scragg also had a big personality, said Hastings. He was a goofball who loved playing practical jokes, making irreverent comments and trying unusual things.
He rode a skateboard to work way back in the 1970s, Baker said. And he was an outdoorsman who loved windsurfing in the Columbia River Gorge, where he eventually bought a home.
“His philosophy was you got to go get it, and that’s just what he did,” said Baker. “He maximized everything he did.”
Mr. Scragg was first diagnosed with cancer about four years ago, but he didn’t tell his co-workers about it until the very end. “He didn’t want to talk about it because the disease was so not him,” said Baker.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Scragg’s survivors include a stepson, Mac Place of Seattle; his mother, Mary Scragg of Lakewood; a brother, Keith Scragg of West Seattle; and a niece, Desiree Scragg Wood of West Seattle.
A celebration of his life has not yet been scheduled.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org