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Fallen Medford firefighter to be honored

The state will honor a Medford battalion chief who suffered smoke inhalation during the 2010 Oak Knoll fire in Ashland, which led to his untimely death.

Mark Burns will be added to the state's Fallen Firefighters Memorial at the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training facility, according to a press release issued by the agency Thursday.

Burns will be the only fallen firefighter honored at a Sept. 15 ceremony at the training facility. His name will be etched on the memorial, and Burns' family will receive assistance from a state memorial fund, according to DPSST Director Eriks Gabliks.

The honor is bestowed on Oregon firefighters who died because of injuries sustained in the line of duty.

Burns suffered severe smoke inhalation in August 2010 while responding to the Oak Knoll fire as the leader of the hazardous materials team, Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Rick Rohrbough said.

Rohrbough said Burns was the only firefighter seriously injured in the fire. The only other injury was a minor heat-related injury, according to Marguerite Hickman with Ashland Fire and Rescue.

Burns never recovered from his injury, according to Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Tom McGowan, who said Burns suffered significant respiratory problems after the fire. He tried to return to work but ended up using all of his sick time and vacation time.

"He never returned to full duty status," McGowan said.

When he reached the limit of his paid time off, other staff members volunteered "traded" shifts they knew Burns couldn't repay, McGowan said. 

"We take great pride in taking care of our teammates," McGowan said.

In October, Burns underwent surgery to remove an abscess from his lung. The surgery removed a significant portion of his lung, and afterward he couldn't pass physical tests allowing him to return to duty, McGowan said.

"He just couldn't keep his breath," McGowan said. "Mark's always been extremely healthy."

In early 2011, Burns took a medical retirement, and on March 6 he succumbed to his injuries. Rohrbough was with Burns when he died.

“Mark was one of my best friends,” Rohrbough said. "Everyone respected him, loved him."

Burns' career in the county spanned nearly four decades. He began as a firefighter with Jackson County Fire District 3 in 1971, and was hired by Medford Fire-Rescue as a shift battalion chief in 1982. He became Medford's operations chief in 1991, in charge of all fire and rescue response operations, a position he held 20 years, until his retirement.

McGowan said Burns looked for new ways to streamline approaches to fire responses, calling his leadership "unprecedented."

“He was very influential as a leader and a chief in the Southern Oregon fire service,” McGowan said.

A committee and the DPSST board was involved in approving Burns for the Fallen Firefighters Memorial. The DPSST Fire Policy Committee approved Burns May 25, and the board approved Burns Thursday.

Both votes were unanimous. Gabliks said the votes were so strong in part because McGowan did a thorough job documenting Burns' injuries.

“It allowed us to evaluate the situation, and allowed us to determine it was a line-of-duty death,” Gabliks said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Mark Burns will be added to state Fallen Firefighters Memorial after succumbing to injuries suffered in the 2010 Oak Knoll Fire in Ashland. Submitted photos