The death of a 27-year veteran of the Wichita Fire Department has stunned the close-knit firefighting community.
Urban Eck, who joined the department in 1982 and worked his way up to captain, died Saturday from heart problems. He was 51.
Mr. Eck was remembered by his colleagues as a humble presence and strong leader at the station house; a man who commanded respect through his actions and was recognized for his bravery.
Eck was hospitalized with heart-related symptoms on Dec. 18, five days after fighting a blaze at the Cedar Lake Apartment complex, 1900 S. Rock Road. It is unclear whether the firefighting contributed to Mr. Eck's death.
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Mr. Eck's unexpected death has left a hole at the station he worked at and in the greater firefighting community.
"We still sit around and expect him to come through the door," said Lt. Mike Crosby, who worked with Mr. Eck at Station 11, 1845 George Washington Blvd. Mr. Eck had been a captain at the station since 1994.
Crosby described Mr. Eck as a steady and humble "meat and potatoes" kind of guy.
Mr. Eck was the station's leader as well as its chef. Crosby said Mr. Eck had high expectations of his crew, but he treated them fairly and consistently, and dinner was always served at 5 p.m.
Although he was a talented firefighter who dedicated his life to the job, Mr. Eck always put his family — which included eight children and eight grandchildren — first, Crosby said.
"Urban was a professional fireman, but that was just a part of his life, it never defined him," Crosby said.
The Fire Department is investigating whether Mr. Eck's death occurred in the line of duty, something that Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said is standard practice. If Mr. Eck is determined to have died in the line of duty, it would affect the benefits his family receives and prompt a review of firefighting policy.
Crisp said that when Mr. Eck and firefighters arrived at the scene of the apartment fire on Dec. 13, the blaze was intense, and firefighters who entered the building had to quickly retreat to fight the fire from the outside. Eck was treated for heart-related symptoms at the scene. He was later hospitalized.
A Wichita firefighter was last killed in the line of duty in 1989.
Crisp said Mr. Eck was known throughout the department for his leadership ability and firefighting skills. After directing the successful rescue and resuscitation of two unconscious people from a large house fire in 2008, Mr. Eck was recognized nationally by Firehouse Magazine.
With Mr. Eck's passing, Crosby said the mood around Station 11 has been somber, but the firefighters want to continue their work in Mr. Eck's memory.
"Urban would want us to move on," Crosby said. "We're not going to replace him; we can't... (but) I think the lessons that were learned under his watch will stick with us forever."
Urban A. Eck was born Nov. 26, 1958, in Wichita to Urban and Dorothy Eck.
He joined the Wichita Fire Department on March 29, 1982, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1989. He was named a captain in January 1994.
Eck is survived by his wife, Lori; his mother, Dorothy; eight children; eight grandchildren; and seven siblings.
A service will be at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Mark's Catholic Church, 19230 W. 29th St. North, Colwich.
Memorials can be made to the Emma and Gabrielle Eck College Fund or the St. Mark Building Fund can be sent to Wulf-Ast Mortuary, P.O. Box 555, Colwich, KS 67030.