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Firefighter leaves legacy of living big

by: Jaime Valdez Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue's Honor Guard escorts the family of Nate Turner into a memorial service Monday for the Beaverton firefighter, who died in a climbing accident.

Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue Firefighter Nate Turner will be remembered for being 'a man of few words and big actions.'

The 30-year-old Southeast Portland resident inspired those around him to push themselves to tackle any challenge ahead and take time to enjoy the journey. He set a shining example of how to live life fully.

More than 400 people gathered together Monday afternoon to honor and celebrate Turner's life at a private memorial service at the Western Mennonite School in Salem.

Turner died July 24 as a result of injuries he sustained in a climbing accident on Beacon Rock in Washington. He is survived by his parents Dale and Janice Turner, sister Heather, brother-in-law Ian and newborn niece Clara Jane.

In the days following his death, his family, friends and brothers and sisters in the fire service have shared countless memories and photographs that reflect Turner's generous nature, adventurous spirit, intense focus and willingness to give of himself.

All of those qualities made him a cherished member of the team at Beaverton Fire Station 67, one of TVF and R's busiest units.

'He was always very professional,' said Firefighter Brad Fritzky, who graduated with Turner from TVF and R's 2007 recruit academy and worked alongside him in downtown Beaverton. 'He always went above and beyond to do the right thing. And, he genuinely cared about everyone he met.'

Turner was a person who could be counted on in any situation, added Capt. Brent VanKeulen of Station 67.

'Nate was the first to be on scene and the last to leave,' VanKeulen said. 'I can't think of a single time I heard him complain. That's not easy to do when you're woken up for the fifth time in the middle of the night after already working a long shift.'

If there was a mission to be accomplished, Turner would charge forward without hesitation and take any action necessary, VanKeulen said.

'I think without him really knowing it, in the finite number of years he had, he lived every day like it might be his last,' VanKeulen added. 'He was always present and thankful. He inspired those of us around him to do the same.'

Life well lived

Turner was born on Easter Sunday, April 19, 1981, and spent most of his childhood in the rural community of Hopewell near Salem. After graduating from high school at Western Mennonite, he began classes at Chemeketa Community College, where he set his sights on becoming a firefighter.

While finishing up his fire science degree, Turner worked as a resident volunteer for the Albany Fire Department. He went on to obtain his paramedic certification in 2003 and served as a reserve firefighter for Sunriver Fire Department. After graduation, he worked as a paramedic for American Medical Response and a professional firefighter in Albany before joining the ranks of Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue in 2007.

Even in an academy of 29 recruits, Turner stood out for his positive attitude, work ethic and passion for service, recalled TVF and R Fire Chief Mike Duyck.

In the last five years of his life, the avid traveler combined his passion for exploring new places with his strong desire to care for people affected by disaster, conflict and poverty around the world. He and fellow members of TVF and R volunteered their time and resources to aid Medical Teams International.

Paul Bollinger, emergency medical services adviser for MTI, said Turner left a lasting impression during his deployments with the relief organization.

'I met Nate when he volunteered to serve with Medical Teams International in Cambodia to train fellow first responders with his expertise and passion of the fire service,' Bollinger said. 'Nate used his personal time to travel twice - once working with Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap and again in the province of Kampong Cham with the Ministry of Health.

'In both locations, Nate went above and beyond his duties as a volunteer trainer. He took the time to actually 'learn' from his students in a way that changed the relationship between student and teacher to that of friend… Nate will truly be missed by Medical Teams International - be assured that his talents will continue to live within his students.'

Man in motion

Turner was never one to sit idle. Even as a young boy, his parents say he was always in motion and loved to climb everything from furniture to trees to rafters to rocks. That love of reaching new heights led Turner to scale mountains all around the world.

Firefighter Jeff Gillies accompanied him on a climb in Ecuador. Turner's cousin Andrew McDonnell traveled with him on epic climbs in the United States, Canada, the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, Europe and South America, among other adventures. Childhood friend Eric Ivanitsky enjoyed climbs closer to home to the peaks of Three Fingered Jack and South Sister in the Cascade Range. Michael Aubry was another climbing buddy.

McDonnell said not even a snowstorm would keep Turner from reaching a summit.

Once at the top, McDonnell said there were always high-fives, celebratory shouts and photo shoots on a ledge with arms outstretched and smiles from ear to ear. After the excitement, there was a 'period of quiet reflection to take in the beautiful spot,' he recalled.

On those climbs and in his daily interactions with others, Turner showed people how to stretch their personal bounds.

'Nate taught me that life is about people and moments that matter,' Gillies said.

He taught his grandfather, who is in his 90s, to work for what he wanted, choose his path wisely, care for others, keep his body tuned and the importance of having fun.

'Nate led by example,' VanKeulen said.

Ivanitsky agreed.

'Nate was a guy who chose to live big,' Ivanitsky said. 'He was a man who loved life, a man who loved adventure and a man who loved the people he walked with.'

Contributions to the Chemeketa Foundation can be made in memory of Nate Turner. They can be mailed to Chemeketa Foundation, 4000 Lancaster Drive NE, Salem 97305 or made online at www.foundation.chemeketa.edu .