Cowlitz 2 Fire & Rescue Chief Dave LaFave said he first met Liliya Zagariya — as he does most of the people working with his fire department — over a conversation at a table in the station’s break room.
The 20-year-old woman’s positive attitude and big dreams to become a paramedic, despite the long and intensive path to get there, stood out to LaFave. Though she had only spent about eight months as a volunteer emergency medical technician with the department, she was quickly working her way into the Cowlitz 2 family, LaFave said.
“Lily, in my conversations with her battalion chief and her company officer and other folks on the shift, had a very positive attitude toward folks and being involved,” LaFave said. “She liked to ride and be assigned to the shift. … She didn’t stand back. She actively participated as a member of the crew. She was really in that stage of developing into the family.”
LaFave and several other Cowlitz 2 staff who worked with Zagariya attended her funeral service Tuesday evening, which was held at an undisclosed location at her family’s request. The department also lowered flags to half-mast and shrouded their badges in honor of the fallen volunteer.
Zagariya was killed Dec. 22 — a few weeks before she would have started training at the fire academy with Cowlitz 2 — in a shooting at a medical building north of PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in central Vancouver. She was working as a concierge in the building when 58-year-old Vancouver resident Douglas Moore walked into the lobby, shot her in the chest and then turned the weapon on himself.
Court documents show Moore had confronted another employee in the building about his appointment time shortly before the shooting happened.
“A lot of people are asking why this happened to this person, myself included,” said Lt. Bryan Ditterick, who worked “more than a handful of shifts” with Zagariya. “She was always eager to learn. She just had a great smile and was always helpful on scene. She was a new EMT, too, and she was certainly gearing up to get more experience. She was enrolled in our program … coming up on (Jan. 7).”
Zagariya earned her national EMT certification in January 2020, and five months later, signed up to volunteer with Cowlitz 2. LaFave said she told him that she chose the Longview program, a nearly 40-minute drive from her home in Vancouver, because one of her friends who was already a member of the fire district spoke highly of its programs.
“She and one of her best friends joined together, so they had an interest in the fire service. I think they were involved possibly in the fire science program in the Clark County or Portland area, and they were in effect recruited by one of our members,” LaFave said.
The volunteer program requires the same training as a career firefighter, so Zagariya and the other volunteers must “really commit a lot of time and effort.”
“It’s really an avocation. It’s a second job,” LaFave said.
Zagariya worked at least eight 12- to 24-hour shifts on the “Bravo Shift,” and she was in good standing for all of the other requirements to enter the fire academy. Noting that 80 percent of the calls the department responds to are emergency medical calls, LaFave said Zagariya also had the advantage of already holding her EMT credentials.
“Frankly, her desire to be involved and to further her training and education towards a career in the fire service is a fairly typical (reason) for what draws people here. But not all have an interest in going on to become a paramedic,” LaFave said. “That takes more training and education, and in effect, sacrifice. But that was what she said was one of her interests, to keep continuing to improve her skills.”
Zagariya had a “service heart” and a positive attitude that showed while she was on shift responding to emergency calls. She had begun to integrate herself into the crew, which tends to be a “pretty tight knit group … and family-like” because crew members spend so much time together.
“With Lily, I look at it like this is first of all obviously very tragic. We were all in the process of getting to know her better,” LaFave said. “I try to remind myself that we don’t really get to decide at times the quantity of life we get to have, but we can certainly try to make sure the time we do have is quality time. And I do know this: While her time with us was somewhat brief, it was quality time.”