Community says ‘irreplaceable’ Lake City fire chief’s COVID-19 death ‘absolutely tragic’

At least 11 first responders in greater Jacksonville area have died from COVID-19

Lake City Fire Department Chief Randy Burnham died Sunday after contracting COVID-19. Department officials say he was a straightforward guy who you wanted to be around and who loved the city and fire department.

LAKE CITY, Fla. – Lake City Fire Department Chief Randy Burnham died Sunday after contracting COVID-19, the department announced.

“We are saddened but thankful for all of your prayers. Please continue to lift the family and our department in your prayers,” the fire department wrote on Facebook.

First responders in Lake City escorted Burnham to the funeral home Sunday night. He battled the virus for three to four weeks and had been on a ventilator.

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Those he worked with and knew him well said Burnham’s legacy of leadership will live in the community and in the department forever.

Austin Thomas, who has known the chief for more than 10 years, said Burnham’s meaning to the fire department was immeasurable.

“He had qualities that were admired, that would just -- you naturally gravitate towards people like Chief Burnham, and, you know, to lose somebody like him in the fire service, in general -- much less in a small community like Lake City or Lake City Fire Department -- is just absolutely tragic,” Thomas said.

Thomas said August was a rough month for the 21-man fire station with, at one time, 75% of its employees either positive with the virus or in quarantine.

The department had PPE and other procedures in place to protect employees, but Thomas said the virus still hit home hard.

“Hitting so close to home influenced the people to get vaccinated, protect themselves, protect their families,” he said. “And I know for sure that that Chief Burnham was always an advocate for, you know: Do what’s best for you and your family.”

When asked if the chief was vaccinated, Thomas and others with the city said they didn’t know.

What they do know, they said, is that Burnham was a great man -- cherished by his family and community.

“He was a leader in not only just the fire service, but (he was) also a mentor and a dad in, in many ways, you know, a voice of reason,” Thomas said.

Others in the community shared memories of Burnham Sunday night.

“He thought that the fire department and being a first responder was the most important job in America,” interim city manager Ami Fields said.

“To lose someone that’s in a prime, and as lively as he was, is just shocking,” said council member Todd Sampson.

Fields recalled a recent conversation with Burnham: “We were talking about his new fire department on fire station No. 2, that’s going to be on the west side. His all over desire was to reduce the amount of time when calls will come in, and versus their reaction time.”

News4Jax was told Burnham was also putting in place pay incentives for an increase for personnel, mentoring and guiding new firefighters.

Sampson said Burnham’s impact is one that will be greatly missed.

“You come across people very few times in life that are what you would call irreplaceable. I would say Chief Burnham is that,” Sampson said. “I don’t think you will find any person that had a negative thought about him.”

City leaders are asking residents following his passing to do whatever they can to reduce the spread of the virus.

“It’s a totally different perspective now,” Fields said. “And I think that’s why we’re all having a hard time dealing with the loss of Randy, and we just have to be safe the best way that we can.”

As Burnham’s health declined, the department asked for prayers not only for Burnham, but for a lieutenant who also has COVID. News4Jax has been told that lieutenant is in the hospital on ventilator.

Funeral arrangements haven’t yet been made for Burnham.

If you would like to make a donation to the family, you can message the Lake City Facebook Page.

At least 11 first responders in the greater Jacksonville area have now died from COVID-19, according to News4Jax records.

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