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Mark McCormack

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Mark McCormack, 36, a newly promoted captain for the Santa Clara County Fire Department, died in the line of duty.

It was the first time in the 58-year history of the Santa Clara County Fire Department that a firefighter had been killed in the line of duty. McCormack's death hit close to home for firefighters far and wide, even by people who didn't know McCormack.

McCormack was born Aug. 22, 1968, in a suburb of Boston. His father remembers that at about 1 year old, his son badly burned his right hand on an electric stove. The hand required about 25 operations over the years. Last year, Mark McCormack spent a week at a children's burn center in Fresno, giving hope to kids who had suffered as he had.

When he was 2, the family packed up and moved to Capistrano Beach in Southern California. His father speculated that the burns probably led to his interest in fire protection. By the time he was 9 or 10, his father remembers, the young McCormack declared he wanted to be a firefighter. And by his early teens, he was a fire scout, hanging around with the pros.

Meanwhile, he also became interested in auto racing; Jack McCormack is well-known in "Indy car" racing circles for owning race cars. Mark McCormack recently told his father he was looking forward to the San Jose Grand Prix, a downtown open street race scheduled for the end of July.

In 1990, the aspiring firefighter graduated from Crafton Hills College in San Bernardino County as a certified paramedic and began working with a California Department of Forestry firefighting and medic unit in Riverside County, said Bryan Swartz, who worked with McCormack in Southern California.

McCormack was promoted to an engineer in the Bay Area and then joined the Santa Clara County Fire Department in 1999, after seeing an ad in the newspaper. The department provides fire services for Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Cupertino, Los Altos Hills and parts of Morgan Hill, as well as unincorporated parts of the county.

His father said McCormack figured the department would provide more room for advancement.

About four years ago, he and his wife of 15 years, Heather, moved to a tidy craftsman near Santa Clara University. In December, he was promoted to captain.

"I saw him as a leader, and he was," said close friend and neighbor Michael O'Kane. "He worked so hard to be captain; he worked hard for everything he did." And he added: "Mark was just starting his life. It shouldn't be this way."

For now, the Sunny Oaks Station, from which McCormack was dispatched Sunday, has its flag at half-staff, and a spontaneous memorial is forming outside. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Published in San Jose Mercury News on Feb. 14, 2005
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