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East Pierce Fire & Rescue hosts quiet ceremony for 8th anniversary of fallen fire chief

A quiet ceremony was held July 26 at the Sumner Cemetery in remembrance of former East Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Dan Packer, who died fighting a wildfire in California in 2008.
A quiet ceremony was held July 26 at the Sumner Cemetery in remembrance of former East Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Dan Packer, who died fighting a wildfire in California in 2008. Courtesy

Eight years after the death of East Pierce Fire & Rescue Fire Chief Dan Packer, a quiet ceremony was held July 26 in remembrance of his leadership.

Firefighters, both active and retired, office staff and friends showed their support to the fallen fire chief at the Sumner Cemetery during a morning ceremony.

The important thing for the employees was a quick, quiet ceremony, said Bud Backer, East Pierce Fire & Rescue’s current chief.

“We placed a wreath at the grave, presented a salute, and then had a moment of silence,” he said. “It was a quiet remembrance.”

Packer died on July 26, 2008 while battling a California wildfire, only weeks before his 50th birthday. Packer was preparing to take over command of the fire and was on a routine survey of the land when the fire suddenly expanded rapidly, trapping the fire chief and taking his life.

There was a big dedication ceremony on the first anniversary of Packer’s death, and every year since the ceremonies have been quieter.

Every station in East Pierce County held little ceremonies at their individual stations, said John McDonald, who retired as deputy chief in 2015 after 32 years of service.

The two were close. As deputy chief, McDonald was second in command to Packer.

“He was my boss but also my mentor and my friend,” McDonald said.

McDonald was the first recipient of the Chief Officer of the Year Award in 2008. Every year since, a chief is chosen for high integrity, care, and compassion toward the department and the citizens it serves.

While Packer was chief, Backer worked for another fire department, but knew Packer through the Washington Fire Chiefs Association.

Backer also kept getting Packer’s mail.

“Because our names are so close together, I kept getting his mail,” said Backer. “That’s essentially how we met.”

For Backer, it’s surreal to now have taken over Packer’s department, but East Pierce Fire and Safety plans to continue its small gatherings of remembrance.

“We live by that,” Backer said. “Lost but not forgotten.”

Allison Needles: 253-256-7043, @herald_allison

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