Fridley city officials said the unexpected death of Fire Chief Mike Spencer this weekend was "an extremely difficult" loss for the department.

"Mike was a terrific person to be around and he cared deeply about his co-workers and this community," Brian Weierke, Fridley public safety director, said in a statement. "We are going to miss him a great deal."

Spencer, who had served the department for 14 years, died unexpectedly Sunday evening at his home in Fridley, officials said. He was 53. No cause of death was given.

In his memory, Anoka County residents plan to turn on red lights Monday, on what would have been his 54th birthday.

Spencer, who had previously served as Fridley's fire marshal, took over the department as chief and deputy public safety director in June 2019 after longtime Fire Chief John Berg retired.

Spencer started at the department as a paid on-call firefighter in 2006. He was promoted to fire captain in January 2015 and fire marshal the following November. Before his firefighting career, Spencer served in the Navy.

He was honored in 2017 for aiding a fire victim whose home was lost. When Spencer discovered the person was living in a garage, he found shelter for the displaced resident, coordinated cleaning of the home and located resources.

Spencer's "commitment and dedication to the Fridley community was his greatest strength," Weierke said.

The fire department set up an online fundraiser to help pay for funeral expenses and to support Spencer's family. Funeral arrangements had yet to be finalized.