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I'm no expert but think I'm certain the advice you've been given is not exactly correct.  I have a Marco fireplace installed 25 years ago.  The manual clearly shows that the lever you are referring to (on the side, not above your logs) is actually not a damper control lever but an outside air control lever which you should open before starting a fire in addition to opening your damper (doesn't matter whether your fireplace has a gas insert or not).  This air control lever is an optional accessory which provides combustion air from outside the dwelling and improves fireplace efficiency.  The damper, on the other hand, is a necessity for getting the smoke and carbon monoxide to exit up the chimney versus back into your home.  It of course should be opened before you start a fire and until the fire is out.  My understanding is you can (and should) at least leave the outside air intake lever in the open position if you want to close your damper and fireplace dooors once your fire is out but is still hot with glowing embers.  

 

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