MEDFORD, Ore. — Medford's former Fire Chief will be honored by the National Fallen Firefighter's Foundation in October, according to Medford Fire-Rescue (MFR). Chief Mark Burns died in 2016 of complications from smoke inhalation sustained in the 2010 Oak Knoll Fire.
Chief Burns’ name will be added to the National Fallen Firefighters Monument in Emmitsburg, Maryland. A brick will also be placed in the "Walk of Honor," which current Medford Fire-Rescue personnel donated in honor of Chief Burns and his family, MFR said in a statement.
“I had the honor of working with Mark for most of my career in the fire service. He was a great mentor to me. I haven’t worked for a better fire strategist and tactician — ever,” said Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Fish. “The best part for me was that we became very good friends. I miss him.”
Mark Burns started as a firefighter with Jackson County Fire District 3 in 1971, moving to a position as shift battalion chief with Medford Fire-Rescue in 1982. He later served as Operations Chief for much of his career at MFR.
During August of 2010, Chief Burns joined firefighters from multiple agencies to battle the Oak Knoll Fire in Ashland.
"Once he arrived on-scene, Chief Burns was put in-charge of a division downwind from the fire; within his division, several homes were well-involved," MFR said. "While he coordinated and assigned incoming resources, it was throughout this time frame in which he received the vast amount of smoke exposure, resulting in damage to his lungs and airways."
The Oak Knoll Fire destroyed eleven structures before the coalition of firefighters were able to contain its spread. MFR estimates that they saved 100 nearby homes from the fire.
“It was one of the quickest-moving fires I have witnessed in-person throughout my career in Oregon. The fire was spreading from home-to-home within minutes, and pulled resources from all over southern Oregon to make the stop,” said Tom McGowan, Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief. “Knowing that so many of us were on a fire that led to a fatality really highlights how quickly an incident can change from calm to chaos.”
Chief Burns tried to return to work, but the injuries to his lungs hindered his ability to stay on the job. He took time off to recover, and eventually required surgery to remove an abscess from his lung. Following the surgery, Chief Burns was unable to pass the firefighter physical.
In 2011, Chief Burns took a medical retirement. In the following years, he was placed on a lung transplant list and was forced to remain on oxygen until his death in March of 2016.
The State of Oregon honored Chief Burns in September 2016, adding his name to the state's Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Salem.
"The Foundation honors America’s fallen fire heroes by sharing how they lived and what they meant to their loved ones, their communities, and our nation," MFR said. "Chief Burns’ family, his fire-family, and friends will be present during his national recognition this October."