Firefighters from around the state are expected to gather this weekend for the funeral of a southern Minnesota firefighter who died in the line of duty hours after answering two emergency calls last week.
Timothy Royce, 58, responded with fellow Mapleton firefighters to a traffic crash and then a medical call Thursday. He died early the next morning from an apparent heart attack, Fire Chief Ben Froehlich for the 22-member volunteer department said Wednesday.
"Everything he was involved in, he was the go-to guy," Froehlich said, "and not just the Fire Department but work and church."
The chief said Royce joined the department in 2001, though he knew him before then. "He was just in my wedding this past October."
Royce's full-time job was as a butcher at Dietz Foods in the town of roughly 1,800; his co-workers there found him dead Friday morning, Froehlich said.
The timing of Royce's death so soon after the emergency calls classifies it as in the line of duty, said Eden Prairie Chief George Esbensen, a board member with the statewide foundation responsible for the Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the State Capitol. A final confirmation by Minnesota and U.S. agencies would free up survivor benefits for Royce's heirs.
Esbensen said firefighters are more prone to sudden death than the rest of the U.S. population, partly from "getting jolted out of bed" at a moment's notice for an array of emergencies.
"It takes a toll over a long period," he said.
Visitation for Royce is scheduled for 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Woodland Hills Funeral Home in Mankato and again Sunday from noon to 1 p.m. at Maple River High School in Mapleton.
The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation is coordinating a solemn send-off from hundreds of fellow firefighters who are being directed to arrive with their department vehicles at a staging area near the high school no later than 10 a.m. Sunday.
After the service, the firefighter vehicles will join in a short processional in Mapleton for Royce before his own department escorts him back to Mankato.
Royce's survivors include daughter Katelyn and son Jacob, and sisters Nancy Goodwin, Laurie Ertman and Lisa Bjorklund.