Here’s why St. George firefighters are donning black bands around their badges this week

A St. George firefighter wears a black band around his badge to honor fallen firefighter Matthew Burchett, Aug. 15, 2018 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — To honor Matthew Burchett, the Utah firefighter who died battling California’s largest wildfire in history, St. George firefighters added something extra to their uniforms Wednesday – a black band.

A St. George firefighter with a black band around his badge, which symbolizes respect for a fallen firefighter, Aug. 15, 2018 | Photo by Markee Heckenliable, St. George News

Wearing a black band symbolizes respect for fallen firefighters, their family and their department, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said. Typically, the black band is worn around firefighters’ badges from the time a firefighter dies until after his or her funeral.

“Where he’s from the state of Utah we felt as a department that that’s something we wanted to do is recognize him,” Stoker said.

The St. George Fire Department also put its flag at half-staff after hearing about Burchett’s death.

Burchett, 42, a battalion chief from Draper City Fire Department, died Monday night after being hit by a falling tree, according to a report from The Associated Press.

He began working for the Draper Fire Department in May and volunteered in early August to travel with 37 other Utah firefighters to battle California’s wildfires.

Read more: Utah firefighter killed battling California blaze

This undated photo shows Utah firefighter Matthew Burchett, who died Aug. 13, 2018, while fighting the Mendocino Complex Fire in California | Photo courtesy of Unified Fire Authority via The Associated Press, St. George News

Burchett was fighting the fire downstream of a dam on the Mendocino Complex Fire north of San Francisco when he was killed.

“When he left with his fellow firefighters to battle the wildfires in California we were so proud of his service – now his heroism leaves us both proud and devastated,” Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. “He gave everything to defend the lives of others.”

Burchett leaves behind his wife and 7-year-old son.

There have been 1,128 wildland fire deaths since 1910, with 14 deaths in 2017, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Six firefighters have died in this year’s wildfires in California.

Firefighting is an inherently dangerous profession, Stoker said, whether a firefighter is full time, part time, reserve or volunteer.

“That extends from the structure side to wildland to hazardous material to car accidents. Wherever we’re going, we’re generally in some sort of a dangerous situation.”

St. George firefighters face the same dangers as those in California, especially when battling fires with thick trees near apartments, Stoker said.

“Those fires get up in those trees and will burn and weaken them. Not always do they break off at the bottom. A lot of times there are bigger limbs and tops of trees that are falling off.”

The first priority for firefighters is life safety, he said.

Burchett’s body is expected to be brought to Utah Wednesday night, according to a report from Fox13. His funeral is scheduled for Monday at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, with no specified time yet.

Email: mheckenliable@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @markeekaenews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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