MAYER, Minn. (KMSP) - A small-town Minnesota firefighter died Tuesday morning from an apparent heart attack, just hours after a training session.
It's a tough pill for his fellow first responders to swallow, not least because he was a beloved firefighter--ultimately they were the ones who had to take the call.
Captain Jeff Vollmer died just hours after the Mayer Fire Department practiced a similar scenario: putting people on stretchers and lifting them up and down stairs. He was only 40 years old.
“Jeff seemed fine, we also had an officers meeting right after that," added Maetzold. “Jeff was well fit from what we could tell ... his heart just quit.”
HE’S NOT ALONE
The last four firefighters in Minnesota to die in the line of duty have all died from heart attacks in their late 30's and early 40's.
Half of all firefighters in America die--not from falling off ladders, smoke inhalation or burns--but from sudden and massive heart attacks, sometimes just hours after their shift.
St. Paul firefighter Shane Clifton died of cardiac arrest at the station house at just 38 years old. For 42-year-old Matt Frantz, the Fire Chief in Rice Lake, it was a few hours after a late night fire call.
Eden Prairie Fire Chief George Esbensen and board member of the Minnesota Fire Service Foundation said he has been trying to get the word out about the risk of cardiac arrest, which is responsible for fully half of all line of duty deaths. He encourages exercise and healthy living, but ultimately it's the very nature of the job that might also be killing them.
"Another reminder that we are not in the cookie-baking business," said Esbensen. "We’re in a business where people can lose their lives."
“INVISIBLE DANGER” SERIES
Earlier this year, the Fox 9 Investigators did a series about the lesser-known risks firefighters face called “Invisible Danger.”
As part of it, they wired up Richfield firefighters with heart rate monitors. Over six days, the firefighters’ heart rates doubled when a call came in to the fire hall and remained high for three to 11 minute--and that was before they got to the fire.
Dr. Zeke McKinney called them occupational athletes. The long term effects of that, day after day, are still unknown in the profession.
Vollmer, who leaves behind a wife and two young daughters, is the latest reason why more research is needed.
“It can happen to anyone at any department," Esbensen said. "Tragedy is not discriminatory."
LINE OF DUTY DEATH
Even though Vollmer died about six hours after his training session wrapped up, it is still considered a line of duty death under the federal Hometown Heroes and Survivor Benefits Act of 2003.
The act recognizes heart attacks to be classified as line of duty deaths if they are within 24 hours of a shift or strenuous training.
Now, getting survivor benefits could take up to a year for his family.
MEMORIAL SERVICE PLANNED
Visitation for Vollmer is planned for Friday from 5-8 p.m. at Freshwater Community Church in Waconia, Minn.
A memorial service will be held Saturday at the Mayer-Lutheran High School in Mayer at 11 a.m., with a visitation occurring in the 90 minutes prior to the service.
Vollmer will be given full honors and several fire departments from around the state are expected to take part in the memorial.
The Invisible Danger series aired in the spring of 2017 and earned a regional Emmy award. It highlighted the risks firefighters face from cardiac issues, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and cancer.
To see Fox 9's full Invisible Danger series, click here.