GLADEWATER, TX (KLTV) - It was a sad Christmas Day for one East Texas fire department, as they learned of the death of their chief.
Gladewater firefighters are mourning the death of Michael Kirkwood, a man they say had dedicated his life to being a first responder. Flags fly at half-staff at the Gladewater Fire Department in memory of Kirkwood, who died Sunday.
"It's definitely left a void. We're all shocked, never imagined it would come to this. Around the holidays it's tough, we're all trying to deal with it in our own way," says Gladewater Fire Department Captain Nathan Hamilton.
Only in his 40s, Kirkwood died of complications from an illness. He's being remembered as a man who personified the servant's spirit.
"He gave the majority of his life to first responding through either the police force or the fire department," Hamilton says.
"Very sad to hear. Remember him as a servant. Someone that cared about them, cared about his fire department. He would have served his entire life doing that as he did," said Sabine Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Sisk.
A licensed peace officer as well as a firefighter, Kirkwood learned from big fires like the old downtown blaze and had an energetic drive to make his department and all those around him better.
"He was very excited. Talked about advancing the fire department, advancing their equipment and training," Sisk says.
Those who knew him say he personified the first responder's dedication to help his community. His death at this holiday time is especially hard for those he led.
"Courageous man. Strong. Words really can't say enough on how he'll be missed," Hamilton says.