Letters From the West

More than 600 remember smokejumper at memorial

Family, friends, firefighters and federal workers celebrated the life of Mark T. Urban at a memorial at the National Interagency Fire Center for the smokejumper who died Sept. 27 when his parachut did not open near Prairie.

Family, friends, firefighters and federal workers celebrated the life of Mark T. Urban at a memorial at the National Interagency Fire Center for the smokejumper who died Sept. 27 when his parachute did not open near Prairie. (Idaho Statesman photo by Katherine Jones)

Smokejumper Mark T. Urban was remembered as a quiet mentor, Friday who carried out his job efficiently without seeking credit.

More than 600 people remembered Urban, 40, in a memorial at the National Interagency Fire Center where he was based. He died Sept. 27 near Prairie when his parachute did not open.

Fire trucks circled the lawn in front of the Jack Wilson Building that was filled with Urban’s family and friends along with the larger firefighting community both from the wild lands and urban teams. Long-bearded boys in flannel shirts and Carhart pants stood next to Boise firefighters in crisp navy blue uniforms.

Federal workers on furlough wiped their eyes as Urban’s friends and co-workers told stories of him running rivers, skiing mountains, playing the mandolin and drinking beer.

His fellow smokejumper Phil Lind, who served as the master of ceremonies, described Urban as a man of “tremendous discipline” who “simply got things done.

“Mark exemplified what it means to be a good man,” Lind said.

Smokejumper Mark Urban, who died Sept. 2 near Prairie when his parachute did not open. (NIFC photo)

Smokejumper Mark Urban, who died Sept. 27 near Prairie when his parachute did not open. (NIFC photo)

Urban had been one of 75 Bureau of Land Management Great Basin Smokejumpers who flew out of Boise. He’s survived by his wife, Rebecca, his parents, Thomas and Pamela Urban and his sister Sara Quaglia.

The ceremony began with a flyover by a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, which is one of the planes used to drop smokejumpers. After it circled NIFC, the plane dropped pink, yellow and blue streamers, that floated to the ground with the shushing sound of a parachute landing.

An interagency honor guard marched in to the bagpipes and drums of the Boise Fire Department playing America the Beautiful and God Bless America.

Unlike many of the aggressive, type A personalities that are attracted to firefighting, Urban was reserved, said his immediate supervisor Derrick Hartman. He was a rookie smokejumper trainer who also helped choose new crew members.

“In many ways Mark Urban will be around the Great Basin Smokejumpers for years to come,” Hartman said.

In the rookie trainer role and as a spotter for the crew when in the heat of a wild fire, Urban, “made sure everyone was safe,” said fellow smokejumper Steve Baker.

Baker compared Urban to the elder brother to Presdient John F. Kennedy, Joe, who died when his plane blew up over the English Channel during World War II. And he told Urban’s family that the firefighting community would be there for them like it was for his family when his brother, an emergency medical technician died in a crash six years ago.

“”Our family survived because of this family,” he said, his arms outstretched to include the entire crowd.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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