Fire fighting community pays tribute as fallen Battalion Chief returns home

SALT LAKE CITY -- The body of the fallen Draper City Fire Battalion Chief killed this week returned to Utah Wednesday, and his firefighting community came together to pay tribute and support his family.

Battalion Chief Matt Burchett died Monday while fighting the Mendocino Fire Complex when a tree fell on him.

The daylong process to bring him home began with Burchett’s family flying to California on Governor Gary Herbert’s plane Wednesday morning, Unified Fire Authority spokesperson Keith Garner said.

Burchett’s wife and brother were accompanied by Unified Fire and Draper City Fire sentinel guards, he said.

“On scene in California, we’ve actually had Cal Fire sentinels, what we call them — guards, stand with the body 24 hours a day,” Garner said.

The casket was loaded into a California Air National Guard Plane, which took off for the Utah Air National Guard Base at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

When the plane arrived around 8 p.m., family and firefighters hugged and the casket was wheeled into a hearse. The hearse formed the front of a procession that included Draper City Fire where Burchett worked, and Unified Fire where he served for 20 years prior.

Members of the public and those who knew Burchett lined various spots of the procession route between the base and funeral home in South Jordan.

Rochelle Russell sat on the curb near where Salt Lake City Fire stood posted, with two ladder trucks holding an American flag over the street.

Ambulances and other fire vehicles ran their lights on the side of the road, as they prepared for the line of vehicles to drive by.

“It's emotional,” Russell said, as she choked up. “It's sad because he was such a good guy. It was very unexpected.”

Russell said she used to work on the Logan Hotshots crew and fought wildfires alongside Burchett.

She came out to show her support and honor his legacy.

“Matt was such a good person,” she said. “He was a hero.”

For the fire fighting community, Garner indicated that it’s important for them to pay their respects and see their fallen brother come home.

"It's part of the process I think, as a firefighter,” Garner said. “The grieving process is being able to show your support by doing that, and know that he's taken care of as well as his family."

After the hearse and family arrived at the funeral home, sentinels from Draper Fire and Unified Fire took over keeping that 24/7 watch.

Garner said sentinels will also stand post at Burchett’s home and watch over his family.

“It's just one of those things where, we feel that we can offer the service and protect him just as he might have been with us, taught us, mentored us, and protected us during life,” Garner said, adding, “We can protect him through this.”

Funeral services for Battalion Chief Matt Burchett will take place on Monday at the Maverick Center in West Valley City.

Those wishing to make a donation to Chief Burchett’s family can do so here.