Christopher Parsons, a union leader and 22-year-veteran of the St. Paul Fire Department, who saved lives while championing stronger health and safety protections for all Minnesotans, died on Thursday after suffering cardiac arrest.

Parsons, 48, was widely regarded as a towering figure, both in his physical stature and at the State Capitol, where he worked for years advocating for causes that had far-reaching impacts on public health and safety.

As a union leader, he fought for legislation that banned cancer-causing chemicals, provided life-saving financial assistance to injured firefighters and helped protect first responders deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and COVID-19, according to a statement from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 21

"It was hard not to notice Chris. At [6 feet 8 inches], he towered over all of us ... and could easily be spotted on the grounds of the State Capitol. He was a remarkable labor leader, excellent firefighter and a true friend to so many," wrote Michael Smith, president of IAFF Local 21, in a statement. "Minnesota has lost one of its best. We will miss him."

In 2015, Parsons played a pivotal role in legislative efforts to ban the use of flame-retardant chemicals in furniture and household items, such as textiles, mattresses and children's products. Scores of studies had linked such flame retardants, which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin during fires, to higher cancer rates among firefighters. Parsons and others maintained the chemicals were ineffective at slowing fires while sickening responders.

Parsons and others filled the hallways of the Capitol and eventually passed the nation's most restrictive laws on the use of such chemicals.

"The sad irony here is that the chemicals that are supposed to protect us from fires are poisoning us," Parsons wrote in an opinion for the Star Tribune in May of 2015. "And they have proved to be totally ineffective, even detrimental, in protecting the public from fire."

Parsons joined the St. Paul Fire Department in October 2000 and was promoted to captain in 2007, where he worked in St. Paul's North End neighborhood. He quickly established himself as a relentless advocate for firefighters statewide and served as president of the Minnesota Professional Fire Fighters union between 2014 and 2021.

Raised in Minneapolis, Parsons made an unsuccessful bid in 2021 for the Minneapolis City Council, in which he emphasized public safety and reforming the Minneapolis Police Department. He was preparing to run for the seat again this year and had planned a kickoff fundraiser several days after his cardiac arrest.

According to the union, Parsons had completed his shift at the fire station on June 9 before running a 5-kilometer race the next day. He was on his way back to his car when he collapsed. Minneapolis firefighters were able to restore Parsons' pulse, but he went into cardiac arrest several times over the next few days. He remained on life support until his death at HCMC on June 15, according to a statement by the union.

"The passing of brother Parsons is a tremendous loss. … Not only was he the kind of firefighter who would always have your back ... on the fire ground but he was the kind of leader who would never stop until the collective voice of our members was heard," Edward Kelly, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, wrote in a statement.

Deputy Chief Roy Mokosso, a spokesman for the St. Paul Fire Department, said Parsons' death is being recognized as a line-of-duty death, because he had a major medical event several hours after being relieved from his last shift. His organs have been donated to people waiting for transplants.

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff across the state until Wednesday.

"Fire Captain Parsons was a dedicated firefighter who was respected by his family, friends, and colleagues," Walz said in a proclamation Friday. "With its deepest gratitude, the state of Minnesota recognizes Christopher Parsons for his dedicated service to, and sacrifice for, his fellow Minnesotans, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and community."

Parsons is survived by daughters Kaya and Annika; his partner Johanna; his parents Johnny and Kathy; and his brother John (Kevin).

The memorial service is 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Nicollet Island Pavilion at 40 Power St. in Minneapolis. Visitation will be three hours before the memorial service at the same location.

At the conclusion of the service, the funeral procession will go to Lakewood Cemetery, 3600 Hennepin Ave. S. in Minneapolis.