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Draper Journal

Draper pays tribute to two of its own

Oct 26, 2020 02:51PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Kaleb and Demi Thatcher attended a memorial ceremony honoring their dad, Bryan Thatcher, who was Draper’s first fire marshal. Thatcher passed away in 2018. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

“We miss Matt every day,” said Tom Burchett, father of fallen firefighter Matt Burchett, to Draper Mayor Troy Walker.

“I think of him every day,” said Steve Chaffin, former colleague of Bryan Thatcher, about Thatcher.

Both Burchett and Thatcher passed away in 2018. Battalion Chief Burchett was killed when an uprooted tree fell on him while battling a wildfire in California, while on loan from Utah to that state’s firefighting efforts. Thatcher, who was Draper Fire Department’s first fire marshal, passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. 

Traditionally, a ceremony is held in Maryland each October to remember those who lost their lives fighting fires the previous year. The ceremony is sponsored by the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation. In 2019, several members of Draper’s fire department traveled to Maryland, along with members of Burchett’s family, to participate in that memorial ceremony. But this year’s national event was canceled due to the coronavirus. As a result, Draper decided to hold their own ceremony at their headquarters station located on 12300 South.

“The idea came for Draper to hold our own ceremony due to our personal experience of loss and to join with the National Fallen Firefighter events during this time of year,” said Draper Fire Chief Clint Smith. 

Members of Burchett’s and Thatcher’s families attended the ceremony along with many firefighting personnel. The Fireman’s Prayer was read and a flag and bell ringing ceremony took place. Walker and City Manager David Dobbins addressed those in attendance at Draper’s memorial as did Smith. 

Walker said it wouldn’t be as painful if they were recognizing those lost nationally, but it was particularly painful when the city lost two of their own in a short amount of time. The mayor said he’d been texting frequently with Bart Vawdrey, Draper’s Deputy Chief, whose crew had just returned from helping with devastating wildfires in southern Oregon. “I personally worry the entire time they’re gone,” Walker said.  

Dobbins said it’s difficult to make the call to send crews to fight fires in other states, but he also knows they want to go and help out of a sense of duty.

“This is what we do. This is our chosen profession,” Smith said. 

It’s been just three and a half years since Draper Fire Department officially went into service on July 1, 2017. Smith said in that time he’d had, “some incredible highs and some of the deepest lows.” Smith said the losses of his colleagues “rocked me to my core” and that he wasn’t sure how to move on, but that the wives of the fallen firefighters somehow found a way to take that next step, giving him an example to follow.

Draper Fire Department engineer Spencer Lawrence had the idea for the creation of granite stones, etched with the names of Burchett and Thatcher, to be permanently on display at the department’s headquarters. The engraved stones were donated by Utah Disaster Kleenup.

“I hope the families know they’re forever a part of our family. We hope this (memorial) provides another place for you to come and find peace,” Smith said. 

Members of the Thatcher and Burchett families admired the stones following the ceremony.

“To know that he’s remembered in the community for the work he’s done means a lot to us. It’s a tangible demonstration of love that means a lot to our family,” said Thatcher’s wife, Erin Preston. 

Thatcher’s son, Kaleb, called it, “a bittersweet moment.” His daughter Demi said, “It’s always nice to get the whole family together to remember our dad and the fire service as well. It means a lot to our family.”

In addition to the newly established memorials and the Oct. 2 ceremony, the department lit up its stations with red lights that same week in remembrance of Burchett and Thatcher.