October 29, 2011 was cold and rainy. The car in which Kattie
Mendes was riding
went out of control on Ridgetop Boulevard and spun off the
road, slamming into a maple tree, splitting the tree.
First on the scene was off-duty firefighter Lt. Steve Murray, on
his way home.
“I saw a car accident on the side of the road …”
Murray called 911 then checked Mendes and the young man who was
driving. The two were lodged in the crumpled car and had to be
extricated by Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue crews that followed
Mendes, then 26, was unconscious. EMTs began care to stabilize
her for an airlift to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, which
receives many traumatic injuries from Kitsap County.
In all 19 first responders (all from CKFR except Murray) aided
the two victims, all but certainly saving their lives.
Francie Mendes, Kattie’s mom, wanted to show her gratitude, and
her sister Cheri Searles quickly got on board. Searles is a member
of the Kitsap Quilters
“I said cookies. She said, ‘No, we’re going to make quilts,'”
Francie Mendes said of her older sister’s idea.
The two had made quilts for the
Lakewood Police Department after four of its officers were
gunned down in a Tacoma coffee shop in 2009.
Nineteen quilts seemed a daunting task, Francie said, but they
took it one at a time. Each quilt was different. Each has a special
message sewn into the corner.
“That’s all we did for six months was work on those quilts. We
did nothing else,” Francie said.
Some of the material was donated.
On Tuesday, the sisters presented the quilts at a meeting of the
CKFR board of commissioners in Silverdale.
“We are so thankful for all of you here and what you did on that
night of October 29 that forever changed our lives,” Francie
Kattie is recovering slowly, her mother told the men and women
who arrived on the scene. But her memory, speech and fine motor
skills remain impaired. She has no memory of the accident, and her
short-term memory is poor — though she can remember long-term
information, like phone numbers from when her dad was in the Navy
and they lived in different places every few years. Through hard
work and therapy, Kattie is almost ready to go back to work with
“We know you see so much bad and ugly, we just want to make you
happy,” Francie said.
Not all the firefighter/EMTs were able to make it to the
ceremony. But those who did got warm hugs from the two sisters as
they accepted their gifts.
“Thank you from my niece,” Searles said, as she embraced
“Thank you so much,” she said to Firefighter Kara Putnam.
Putnam’s unit arrived after Mendes already had been transported
from the scene. She helped give aid to the young man, who also is
recovering from serious injuries.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” Putnam said after the brief,
informal ceremony. “It’s incredibly kind of them. When we first
heard they were doing this … you get chills.”
Putnam said the quilt she chose would coordinate with her
bedroom at home, but she has other plans.
“I’ll probably keep this at the station on my dorm bed,” she
“It was a labor of love. They really enjoyed what they did,”
said Andy Mendes, Kattie’s father.
He was a firefighter on naval aircraft carriers, so he could
relate to the daily demands on the group being honored.
“It’s nice to be able to meet these people and be able to show
them how much we appreciate what they did,” Andy Mendes said.
Added Cheri’s husband Russ, “Too few tell them thank you.”
The quilting marathon was a bonding experience for the two
sisters, both from Poulsbo.
“As sisters, we laughed, we cried,” Francie Mendes said.
“Everything here has been prayed over, not just for the people who
are receiving the quilts, but for their families.”
… and for everyone who comes under their care.
“We never argue,” said Francie, with a wink at her elder
To which Cheri replied, “That’s because I’m always right.
…. In the photo below by Kitsap Sun photographer Meegan Reid,
Francie Mendes hugs firefighter Lt. Steve Murray of North Kitsap
Fire & Rescue. Francie’s sister Cheri Searles is in the
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