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National service will honor local firefighters

Seven wildland firefighters from Jackson and Josephine counties who died in a helicopter crash in 2008 will be honored Sunday by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation in Emmitsburg, Md.

They are among 103 firefighters — 98 men and five women — from 36 states who died in the line of duty in 2008. They will all be remembered in the 28th annual memorial service at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg.

Emmitsburg is a town of about 2,500 some 60 miles north of Washington, D.C.

As many as 6,000 people are expected to attend the memorial. The keynote speaker will be House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., according to a spokeswoman for the nonprofit foundation.

The foundation, created by Congress to remember fallen firefighters, will reimburse the fallen firefighters' family members who attend the ceremony once they arrive in Maryland, and pay for meals and lodging during their visit, the spokeswoman said.

Family members representing all of the local fallen firefighters are expected to attend the memorial, which is held every year in October, she added.

The local fallen firefighters include Shawn Blazer, 30, and Bryan Rich, 29, of Medford; Scott Charlson, 25, Edrik Gomez, 19, and David Steele, 19, all of Ashland; Matthew Hammer, 23, of Grants Pass; and Steven Renno, 21, of Cave Junction.

Veteran pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine, and U.S. Forest Service aviation inspector Jim Ramage, 63, of Redding, Calif., who both died in the crash, will also be honored Sunday.

The firefighters, who worked for Grayback Forestry Inc., died when a Sikorsky-61 crashed and burned Aug. 5, 2008 on the Iron 44 Complex fire in the Trinity Alps Wilderness near Weaverville, Calif. The firefighters were all part of a crew from Grayback's White City base.

The helicopter was operated by Merlin-based Carson Helicopter Inc. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Three Grayback firefighters from the Medford area survived the crash, including Michael Brown, 21, Jonathan Frohreich, 19, and Rick Schroeder, 43. Pilot William “Bill” Coultas, 44, of Cave Junction, also survived, although he suffered severe burns.

Oregon firefighter Robert Hales, 40, a member of the Scappoose Rural Fire Protection District, who died in a motor vehicle accident after responding to wildland fires on Aug. 17, 2008, also will be honored at the ceremony.

Sponsored by the foundation as well as the Department of Homeland Security, the national tribute marks the beginning of National Fire Prevention Week, designated by President Obama to focus attention on the death and destruction caused by fires.

In addition to the ceremony, there will be special programs for family survivors and those who worked with the fallen firefighters to help them come to terms with their loss and rebuild their lives.

Plaques around the monument bear the names of 3,259 firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1981.

For more information on the foundation, its programs and Sunday's ceremony, visit the Web site at


Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.