Firefighters honor fallen ‘leader, scholar and a friend’ |

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Firefighters honor fallen ‘leader, scholar and a friend’

Tree-planting ceremony in Craig recognizes 3-year anniversary


“He was both an amazing person and an amazing firefighter.”

— Michael St. Martin, Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit engine captain, about fallen firefighter Brett Stearns

When Michael St. Martin began fighting fires 12 years ago, he didn't set out alone.

He and Brett Stearns, another young man hungry to fight fires, began their firefighting careers together in 2000.

As years passed, Stearns became the kind of firefighter his colleagues respected and trusted.

"He wasn't only an engine captain," St. Martin, Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit engine captain, told a crowd of about 50 people Tuesday morning outside the Bureau of Land Management's Little Snake Field Office in Craig. "He was a leader, not only … within the fire community but to everyone."

During the ceremony, St. Martin and other members of the NWCFMU recognized the three-year anniversary of their comrade who died while in the line of duty.

Stearns, who also was an engine captain, died June 26, 2009, during a hazard tree abatement project at Freeman Reservoir, 15 miles northeast of Craig. He was struck by a falling tree.

Stearns was 29.

"He was both an amazing person and an amazing firefighter," St. Martin said after the memorial.

Attendees from other firefighting agencies, including the Craig Interagency Hotshots and Craig Fire/Rescue, also came to remember Stearns, who St. Martin described as a "leader, scholar and a friend.”

Fire crews honored Stearns by running on Stearns’ trail at Cedar Mountain, just north of Craig, Tuesday morning as part of their daily physical training.

Fire crews with the NWCFMU also helped plant a Ponderosa Pine in front of the BLM's Little Snake Field Office in his memory.

Ponderosa Pine was one of Stearns' favorite trees, said Dale Skidmore, former zone fire management officer for the NWCFMU.

"I know that (Stearns) enjoyed cutting really big ones … up on Douglas Mountain," he said.

"I'll look at that tree fondly for the rest of my career here.”

Anyone who wants to donate money for the Stearns tree can do so by giving funds to Colt Mortenson, BLM fire management officer, or St. Martin, detailed BLM zone fire management officer.

Money may also be left at the front desk at the Little Snake Field Office, 455 Emerson St.

“If donations exceed the cost of the tree, the remainder will be given to the Wildland Firefighter Foundation,” according to a news release.

The foundation honors those who have died while protecting lands, homes and property.

The foundation also maintains the Wildland Firefighters National Monument, located at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and helps families of firefighters killed or injured in the line of duty.