Mapleton Fire Department says goodbye to one of their own

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Firefighters from across the state gather in Mapleton for services for Asst. Chief Tim Royce.

On a snowy Sunday afternoon, members of a small southern Minnesota town's fire department served as pallbearers for one of their own, the result of a tragic heart attack that's left much of the community in shock.

Mapleton Fire Chief Ben Froehlich said it’s hard to imagine his department--and the town--without Tim Royce. 

“For the last week we’ve just been kind of reminiscing about Tim,” he said. “It’s hard to forget—it’s hard to forget the impact that it’s going to have on everybody—not just from the department’s standpoint, but in town as well."

Royce was found dead on March 30 at the grocery store where he worked when he wasn’t on duty with Mapleton's paid, on-call volunteer fire department. His apparent heart attack happened less than 24 hours after responding to two calls and participating in a training exercise, likely qualifying it as a "line of duty" death because it came so soon after those calls. 

Cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death for firefighters, a phenomenon explored by the Fox 9 investigators in their series, "Invisible Dangers."

The Rice Lake Fire Department lost two firefighters over a span of 14 months, a tragic series of events that brought greater awareness to the strain that fighting fires can have on someone's heart. 

“We know in our department what it meant to us to have all these fire departments to come up and support us through our difficult time,” said Rice Lake Fire Marshal Devin Sonnek. 

Sonnek made the drive from Rice Lake, Minn. to honor Royce and to show their support for the Mapleton community. Governor Mark Dayton also attended the service, and ordered flags in the state to fly at half-staff through Sunday evening. 

The Minnesota Fire Service Foundation estimates there were representatives from 31 departments in attendance at Royce’s funeral. 

Good Thunder and St. Clair Fire Departments, along with Gold Cross Ambulance, responded to calls Sunday, so that Mapleton firefighters could attend the service. 

READ NEXT: Invisible Dangers Series