Terry William Molzahn


February 7, 2019

Terry William Molzahn passed away Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Plains, Montana after complications from cancer treatment. He was 65 years old.

Terry was born April 5, 1953, in Rockford, Illinois, to Maynard and Janet Molzahn. He attended Fontana High School in Fontana, California. In 1971, Terry married Linda Williams. They had three children together, Wade, Lorena and Ethan. They divorced in 1986 and Terry welcomed daughter Lairen with girlfriend Betty. In 1991, he married Julie Goodspeed Molzahn. Together he and Julie had two children, Garth and Morgan. Terry enjoyed American history and learning about the Civil War, collecting antiques, watching Westerns and cheering on the Seattle Seahawks.

Terry had two occupations throughout his life, one was being a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, the other serving as a law enforcement officer. As a USFS firefighter, he started on the San Bernardino N.F in 1971. He was then moved to the Cleveland N.F. in 1976. In 1977 he returned to San Bernardino and stayed until 1988. He made his way to the Angeles N.F, where he stayed until 2001. He retired from the Forest Service in 2004 while assigned on the Inyo N.F. Of special note, upon his retirement the federal firefighter certification of Backfiring Specialist was removed from the federal system.

To support his growing family, in 1975, Terry joined the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department as an active reservist, where he served until 1994. In 1984 he was asked by the U.S Forest Service (USFS) to join the newly created USFS Federal Law Enforcement Officer program, becoming one of the first 20 officers in the nation. He held one of the first DEA certifications for narcotics interdiction and served as a Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Firearms Instructor. He stepped away from law enforcement in 1994 when the agency required him to choose between careers in fire or law enforcement.

While working for Forest Service his strong, rough and abrupt leadership style helped train many agency firefighters. Terry brought out the best in them. Terry was known as a mentor that made his mentees on their own solve problems quickly and become self-reliant. He never expected anything but the best from them. The firefighters he built would grow to respect him for this, as well as being straight forward, honest and having an outstanding work ethic. Under his leadership he never lost a soul in a fire, bringing home every man and woman he took out on the line. A unique accomplishment was that he supervised the first all-female fire engine crew in the U.S Forest Service. Many of these firefighters would go on to become overhead in the Fire Service because of his guidance and mentorship.

Sanders County Ledger canvas prints

During his long career he served as firefighter, an experimental Heli-shot, Millcreek Hotshot Crew Forman, Engine Captain, Forest Protection Technician, Battalion Chief, Division Chief or District Fire Management Officer, and a Forest Fire Management Officer. Besides the Backfiring Specialist, Terry was the first Urban Interface Specialists in the federal system along with his highest fire qualification of Type I National Incident Commander. The qualification he loved best was his Type I Operation Section Chief. At the time of his retirement, Forest Service National Director of Fire and Aviation Management Tom Harbour said he was the best Ops Section Chief the agency ever produced. Terry served on historic fires such as the Marblecone, Hogg, Stable, Panorama, Happy Camp, Yellowstone, Wenatchee, Idaho city, Glacier and Old/Grand Prix complexes, with too many others to name. Terry responded to numerous incidents including fires, hurricanes, shuttle disasters and earthquakes in almost every state west of the Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Puerto Rico, Canada and Mexico.

Terry was preceded in death by his parents, daughter Lorena Lee, father-in-law Robert Goodspeed and sister-in-law Jackie Molzahn. He is survived by his wife Julie; sons Wade (K.C.), Ethan (Amy), Garth and Morgan; daughter Lairen; brother Tyler and his three children Ty, Tyne, Justin; grandchildren Aiden, Logan, Layla and Abigail; and several cousins in Illinois.

A funeral will be held Friday, Feb. 8, at 11 a.m. at St. William’s Catholic Church in Thompson Falls. A wake will follow the service at Big Eddy’s in Thompson Falls.

The family wishes to thank the hospital staff at Clark Fork Valley Hospital for their great care and warm atmosphere during their many stays. Donations may be sent to PO Box 2450, Thompson Falls, MT 59873, or submitted through the GoFundMe page: In Memorial Terry Molzahn.


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