U.S. Forest Service firefighter killed in helicopter crash, served 23 years with agency

RICHARDS, Texas (FOX 26) — 41-year-old Daniel Laird was one of three people on board a helicopter when it crashed into the ground at Sam Houston National Forest on Wednesday afternoon. Laird was killed in the crash. 

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers said the 2009 Eurocopter was contracted by U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to help with a controlled burn operation.

Joe Navratil, director of public affairs for the USDA Forest Service, said Laird was in the Houston area from California to assist with the controlled burns, which typically last several weeks.

"He was one of our best," said Navratil. "Being a forest service wildland firefighter is one of the toughest jobs that we have in the United States." 

According to Navratil, Daniel was an experienced 23-year wildland firefighter based out of Northern California, where he lived with his wife and 10-year-old daughter. 

"Daniel, by all accounts, was absolutely fantastic person," added Navratil. "Within his family, within his community, with the forest service. He started with us as a seasonal intern and worked all the way up to be a helicopter captain doing these kinds of prescribed burn and firefighting from our aviation and our firefighting units."

"Anytime we lose one of our own like this, we work very closely with his family, immediate family, firefighting family, his forest service family, and the local community to give the proper honor to his life," said Navratil. 

The two survivors from that helicopter crash have also been identified — the pilot, 50-year-old Morgan Kozloski, and another firefighter, 43-year-old Kelly Callahen. Both are reportedly in stable condition. 

The NTSB and FAA are still investigating the cause of the crash.