Hundreds attend funeral for fallen Draper firefighter

August 21, 2018
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The funeral cortege for Battalion Chief Matt Burchett of the Draper Fire Department arrives at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. Battalion Chief Matt Burchett was hit by a tree Monday while fighting a wildfire north of San Francisco. He was flown to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. (Ravell Call/The Deseret News via AP)

Hundreds of firefighters, law enforcement officers, members of the community and family members attended the funeral for Draper Battalion Chief Matthew Burchett at the Maverik Center on Monday morning in West Valley City.

He was laid to rest Monday afternoon at the Eastlawn Memorial Hills Cemetery in Provo.

“The fire profession is said to be a noble profession, and it takes an even nobler man to fill that position,” said Chief Clint Smith of Draper City Fire. “And there was none in my mind who was nobler than Matt.”

Burchett, 42, was hit by a falling tree while fighting the largest blaze in California history, the Mendocino Complex Fire, north of San Francisco. He passed away in the hospital on Aug. 13.

He was battling flames downstream of a dam when he and three other firefighters were hit by the tree, the Associated Press reported.

Six firefighters have died in those wildfires so far this year while battling wildfires that have spread through drought-parched forests and rural communities in California, AP stated.

Burchett was one of five Draper firefighters who went to California, along with 37 other Utah firefighters.

“Matty, you took an oath, and you gave your life to that oath,” said Unified Fire Authority Chief Dan Peterson. “We’re going to miss you down here, absolutely, forever.”

Since being at the hospital, Burchett was watched over 24 hours a day by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the UFA and Draper Honor Guard until he was brought to the cemetery.

To allow firefighters from Draper and UFA to attend the funeral, crews from 27 fire agencies across the state covered shifts for the two stations. Nearly 100 personnel, including a crew from Spokane, Washington, arrived Sunday and manned Draper and UFA stations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Matt, find a great spot on a hill where you can look and watch over us, warn us of impending danger and of the fires that lie ahead,” Smith said, his voice shaking with emotion. “I love you brother, and I will miss you and look forward to when we meet again.”

Two lines of firefighters proceeded an American flag-covered casket as it was carried into the Maverik Center as UFA Pipes and Drums played “Amazing Grace.”

Several family members also spoke at the funeral, including Burchett’s brother, Dominic. Before speaking, Dominic Burchett took off his hat and ruffled his hair, saying with a smile that his brother was always working with bed head.

“Matt was a hero. He was a hero son, a hero brother, a hero husband to Heather, a hero father, and a hero stroke survivor,” he added. “He died a hero doing what he loved.”

The family grew up in Midway, where Burchett would build bike ramps and play outside with his siblings. He graduated from Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City in 1994.

His father, Tom Burchett, played three voicemail recordings from his son and left his own voicemail on his cellphone.

“We want him back so badly, and yet we know he won’t be here anymore,” he said during his remarks. “I need to turn the pain of this experience into motivation to honor Matt’s memory.”

UFA Assistant Chief Mike Watson remembered Burchett’s “infectious” smile, which could be either sincere or mischievous.

“The challenge for us was to figure out what the grin was for,” Watson remembered.

Burchett’s sisters, Monica Brinkerhoff and Gina Zipp, read his obituary at the funeral, recounting their memories and stories of their brother.

Burchett started working as a firefighter with the Salt Lake County Wildland after he graduated high school before working with Logan Hotshots in 1998.

He then spent nearly 20 years serving as a firefighter, paramedic and captain with the Unified Fire Authority. In 2018, Burchett accepted the position of battalion chief for Draper.

“You loved to be outdoors, and never missed a chance to take us with you—to ski, hike, run, fish, ride a bike, or anything that involved fresh air and mountains,” Brinkerhoff read. “We know this is what fed your passion and drive to fight forest fires-you loved to be out there, in nature, among the mountains and the trees, being brave and helping people at the same time.”

Burchett married his wife, Heather, and they have a 7-year-old son, Griffin. His son carried his father’s helmet during the funeral procession.

“You were a patient and gentle father,” Brinkerhoff read. “You taught Griff how to ‘Matt-Gyver’ the world.”

In remarks read by Smith, Heather Burchett expressed her gratitude for the “abundant love, support, outpouring of generosity” from community members over the past week.

Speakers also remembered Burchett’s love for tinkering and building things, like using a pocket knife blade to short out and modify an appliance.

“Matt was one of those guys who could puzzle his way through a problem,” said Chief Duane Woolsey with the Unified Fire Authority. “I believe the ripples of Matt’s influence will go on for generations in this life and generations in the fire service.”

The funeral procession traveled from West Valley City to Provo, where dozens of local families and residents lined the sidewalks along Foothill Dr. near the private cemetery in northern Provo.

Students from Canyon Crest Elementary School handmade posters to hold with phrases “thank you for your service” and “you’ll be missed,” while other community members held flags or their hands over their hearts.

Provo Power and the Provo Fire Department hoisted flags along the route and firefighters saluted as the Honor Guard passed, followed by the hearse and black-veiled Draper fire trucks.

“He gave everything that he had to offer in the service of other people,” Dominic Burchett said at the funeral. “I never could have imagined such a wonderful tribute to Matt.”

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