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Colleagues vow to ‘carry on legacy’ of beloved Lake City Fire Chief

Memorial service on Friday honors Fire Chief Randy Burnham, 52, who died from COVID-19

Lake City Fire Chief Randy Burnham who died battling COVID-19 will be remembered during a memorial today.
Lake City Fire Chief Randy Burnham who died battling COVID-19 will be remembered during a memorial today.

LAKE CITY, Fla. – Lake City Fire Department Chief Randy Burnham, who died Sunday after contracting COVID-19, was honored Friday for a life of leadership and impact.

His memorial service at Christian Fellowship Church was followed by a procession.

“Chief Burnham was nothing short of a great leader,” said driver engineer Austin Thomas. “The way he carried himself, the energy that he gave off. It was very hard not to notice, and honestly very hard not to follow.”

The pastor said Burnham, 52, was a good man who deeply loved his wife, his children and his grandchildren. They were all great sources of pride for him, the pastor said.

“I looked up to him. He was always in a good mood. Chief Burnham laid the foundation; the structure is there. All we have to do is carry on his legacy,” Assistant Fire Chief Josh Wehinger said. “Rest easy friend, we’ll take it from here.”

Burnham served as fire chief for a little more than two years but spent more than 30 years with the department.

“I believe that he had the favor on his life because it seemed like every situation that Randy was in was better because he was a part of it,” Thomas said.

The same day the Lake City community gathered to mourn his passing, Jacksonville Beach will also lay to rest a first responder who died from COVID-19 complications: police Sgt. Daniel Watts.

It’s the second week in a row two local communities are holding ceremonies under these circumstances.

COVID-19 is now the leading cause of law enforcement “line of duty” deaths.

Firefighters are also on the frontlines -- and as we’ve learned this month -- the virus ignores rank.

“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 when it announced Burnham’s death.

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.

RELATED | 2 more local deputies honored after losing battles with COVID-19

“To lose someone that’s in a prime, and as lively as he was, is just shocking,” said Lake City council member Todd Sampson. “To replace him is going to be impossible. All you can do is try to move on the best you can.”

Sampson remembers Burnham as a humble friend who led by example.

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

“If you have any symptoms at all that you’re sick, please do not be around other people. Get tested. If you have the virus, stay home. Don’t be out. If you can do that, it can help out tremendously and do what you can to limit the exposure of our first responders,” Sampson said.

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

About the Authors:

A Florida girl and North Carolina A&T SU grad who thrives in breaking news.

Weekend morning reporter and multi-media journalist.