With a last name like his, nobody is surprised when Lt. Eric Byrne — pronounced “burn” — tells people he’s a firefighter.

But the 2012 Firefighter of the Year had no idea while growing up in Gresham that he was destined for a career that so perfectly suited his name.

And last month, after almost 15 years with Gresham Fire & Emergency Services, he was honored with the department’s annual award during a ceremony Dec. 6.

“I was surprised,” Byrne said. “There are so many deserving people who work here. It’s humbling.”by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Lt. Eric Byrne is the Gresham fire department's  2012 firefighter of the year.

Battalion Chief Mark Maunder nominated Byrne for the honor.

“He’s a great guy,” Maunder said. “We all depend on him.”

In his nomination, Maunder wrote, “Eric has a very positive attitude in all aspects of the job. He is very respectful and is always willing to take on any project or detail needed at any time.

“It is rare that I see Eric take a break around the station. He is the first to get started and is commonly working late into the evening on projects and reports. Eric is a great employee and demonstrates all the attributes to be nominated for Firefighter of the Year.”

Byrne is a firefighter and a paramedic who serves on the department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team. Last year, he took a lead role in planning and organizing a large-scale regional disaster drill in Salem. He also is on the department’s Technical Rescue Team, which specializes in hard-to-reach areas such as a confined space or a steep hillside that must be accessed by rope.

In addition, Byrne is considered one of the department’s three apparatus operators — meaning he knows the ins and outs of driving and operating the department’s complicated trucks and fire engines, and trains others how to use them.

Capt. Rick Sieverson also nominated Byrne for the honor.

“Eric is not only an effective fire officer, he is an excellent firefighter and his hard working common sense approach is contagious amongst the crews,” Sieverson wrote.

He then went on to describe a medical call he and Byrne were on just a week before. A man who suffers from multiple sclerosis needed help but he could not get to his door to let firefighters in. The crew had to break down the door.

After treating the man and getting him ready to transport to a hospital, the crew realized they couldn’t secure the patient’s door.

Because he lives alone, there was nobody home while he was in the hospital.

“It would have been totally acceptable to do the best they could to secure it, write a report and forward it to the risk manager, but Eric and his crew took it a step further,” Sieverson wrote. They figured out what parts were needed, visited a hardware store to buy what was needed, returned to the house and fixed the door. They even replaced the deadbolt lock so the patient’s home wouldn’t be ransacked while he was hospitalized.

“These are the type of things that Lt. Byrne is known for,” Sieverson continued. “He does the right thing, regardless of inconvenience of circumstance, not because he has to but because that is who he is.”

Byrne, 42, grew up in Gresham. He attended Powell Valley Elementary School, Gordon Russell Middle School and Sam Barlow High School class of 1988. He went to Mount Hood Community College with plans to become an electrical OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Eric Byrne was raised in Gesham and is pleased to be able to serve his hometown. There he became friends with a guy who wanted to become a firefighter. Byrne discovered that working in a lab behind a desk or a computer wasn’t for him. Then he had a powerful conversation with his father, who taught woodshop at Reynolds High School.

If he had it to do all over, his father told him, he’d have become a firefighter.

“Dad sealed the deal,” Byrne said.

Byrne took EMT classes, studied fire science at Portland Community College, became a paramedic and served for three years as an unpaid volunteer firefighter for Gresham Fire & Emergency Services before being hired full-time in February 1998.

And guess who he gets to work with? That friend whose plans to become a firefighter inspired Byrne to consider it as a career. Jeff Marham also is a firefighter for Gresham Fire.

“I like that everyday is different,” Byrne said. The only downside is meeting so many nice people under less-than-ideal circumstances, such as medical emergencies, fire, or something more unique, such as a child with a finger stuck in a seatbelt buckle.

“But most of the time we’re able to do something to make things better. I get to make a difference.”

Between growing up in East County and still living in the Gresham area, Byrne often goes on a call for work and comes face-to-face with someone he knows.

He recalls going to the scene of a motorcycle accident and seeing the patient in the road. Byrne leaned over him and the patient exclaimed, ‘Hey, man, what are you doing here?”

Byrne knew the man from his younger days working at Cascade Athletic Club.

Or there was the woman he talked to at the end of a call. She was the mother of a boy Byrne knows through his son.

“It makes people feel better when they recognize you,” he said, adding that it’s one of the perks of working in his hometown.

When he’s not working, Byrne enjoys spending time with his wife, Jennifer, daughter Allison, 14, and son Jacob, 10.

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