By Frances Starr O’Leary
Christopher Kendrick, a prairie firefighter, died while out of service on July 4 when the car he was traveling in crashed on the way to an Independence Day fireworks display in Ukiah, Oregon. His wife, Gabriel, and their two-month-old son, Cecil, are survived.
29-year-old Kendrick was a member of the Umatilla Veteran Crew (UVC), a Type II Initial Attack crew based in the North Fork John Day Ranger in the Umatilla National Forest in northeastern Oregon.
Before becoming a wilderness firefighter, Kendrick spent seven years in the United States Air Force, serving as a military policeman, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant before being medically discharged due to an illness contracted during his second deployment to Afghanistan. Treatment for the disease included surgery to remove several feet of Kendrick’s small intestine, gallbladder, and bile duct.
Despite these medical setbacks, Kendrick remained brave and determined to continue serving his community. He chose to do so as a prairie firefighter. His first year in firefighting saw him serve on a BLM engine in Boise before joining UVC in his sophomore year.
“He was really driven,” said Sam Bowen, UVC crew supervisor. “After his Air Force injuries, he was really intent on finding something similar to the military, a physical and mental challenge, to prove to himself that he still had it like nothing else. I think he really found it in this job.”
Kendrick showed persistence throughout his time with UVC, according to crew members. While doing physical activities, he would tell his crewmates, “I’m going to die before I leave.” Those physical trials included the 12-mile annual crew training hike, which the crew said they completed without problems. Kendrick also participated in UVC’s annual “Freedom Race,” a 17.76-mile race to celebrate the Fourth of July. Kendrick and the rest of the crew completed the race just three days before his death.
UVC created file gofundme To support the Kendrick family during this time of mourning.