Whatcom County Fire Captain dies off-duty in snowboarding accident

Mar 5, 2024, 8:32 AM

whatcom firefighter...

Whatcom County Fire Captain John Devenery (Photo courtesy of Whatcom County Fire Department)

(Photo courtesy of Whatcom County Fire Department)

Firefighters in Whatcom County are mourning the loss of fellow Fire Captain John Devenery after he died in a snowboarding accident near Mt Baker ski area on Friday.

Devenery, 63, of Sedro-Woolley, died off-duty when he fell into a tree well while snowboarding.

“Very shocking news,” County Fire District 7 Chief Larry Hoffman told KIRO 7. “He literally told me on Wednesday that he was going snowboarding on Thursday and then, when this happened on Friday, I thought, ‘well this can’t be John because he went on Thursday,’ but he went two days in a row.

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“Devastating for his family, his wife Candy, his three adult kids,” Hoffman added.

Rescuers dug up DeVenere from the tree well and tried to save him, but he did not survive. He was reportedly at the Lower Rumble Gully of Mt. Baker, an area popular among snowboarders.

The Mt. Baker Ski Area warned potential skiers and snowboarders of snow suffocation and falling into tree wells after the mountain received nearly 40 inches of snow last week.

“Snow suffocation hazard is due to deep snow immersion and/or tree wells may exist,” the ski area said on its website. “Avoid tree wells and keep your partner in sight.”

A snow suffocation accident can happen when a skier or snowboarder falls – usually headfirst – into a tree well or deep loose snow and becomes immobilized and trapped under the snow and suffocates. According to Deep Snow Safety, 90% of people involved in snow suffocation situations could not rescue themselves.

More on Mt. Baker: Level 4 avalanche warning issued near Mt. Baker after heavy snow week

“He just happened to fall into this particular tree that had a particularly deep tree well to the point where even the base of his snowboard was upside down so even the base was covered,” Gwyn Howat, CEO of Mt. Baker Ski Area, told KIRO 7. “He was truly underneath the snow.”

DeVenere worked with Whatcom County Fire District 7 since 2000, and was a volunteer firefighter for several years before that, according to The Bellingham Herald. DeVenere worked mostly at Station 42 on Brown Road, and was previously a firefighter in Florida before moving to Washington.

Contributing: KIRO 7

Frank Sumrall is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read his stories here and you can email him here.

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Whatcom County Fire Captain dies off-duty in snowboarding accident