MEDICINE LAKE, Minn. (FOX 9) - Beloved Minnesota firefighter Tom Chapman passed away Friday after a battle with stage 4 lung cancer.
The tight-knit community of Medicine Lake - including the local fire department he served in – is now heartbroken over the sudden loss.
Though the city is made up of 371 people, Medicine Lake has a good sized fire department, with five percent of residents volunteering.
“The story goes, a couple chiefs ago [...] the first thing that comes to your door after the moving truck pulls away was the fire chief," said current chief Rich Halvorsen.
They only get a few calls a month and actual fire calls are rare, which is why a particular house fire in March 2006 is still known as “the big one.”
That’s when Tom Chapman, who lived near that fire, joined the department.
“He was there with us helping with the coffee and donuts all day because it was a long night, and he had talked about coming up, and I think that finally kind of pushed him over the edge,” Halvorsen said.
Less than two months ago, 62-year-old Chapman was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, which doctors weren’t even looking for. In fact, he was getting a chest X-ray for something unrelated when they noticed it.
“When I sit on that boat and think of the calls we were doing on that boat, for some reason, I always think Tom was there,” Halvorsen said.
Remembered for his contribution to calls on the lake, the loss really hits home. In a department that feels like the soul of a small town, Chapman was among the father figures for their young chief who lost his own.
“He and a couple other guys here definitely filled that hole without any of us even realizing it at the time… so that meant a lot to me," said Halvorsen.