RIO VERDE, AZ (3TV/CBS5) -- Firefighters in the valley are mourning the loss of one of Eric Merrill, a recently retired Deputy Chief from Rio Verde Fire District who suddenly died in a tragic car accident.

Arizona's Family spent time at his fire station with the crew he worked with. They say he was the true definition of a hero.

[WATCH: Firefighters mourn the loss of retired deputy chief from Rio Verde]

Fighting back tears, Capt. Matt Oden said, “It’s a shock! I don’t think it’s real, but it’s real."

Oden worked with 59-year-old Merrill for nearly 30-years.

Merrill dedicated more than 40-years of his life to serving others.

“He’s a hero. He started with the Marines as a young man and as soon as he got out of the Marines, he got into the fire service,” said James Hughes, a firefighter engineer who worked with Merrill for 19 years.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Recently retired deputy chief firefighter dies in Buckeye crash]

Merrill’s life tragically ended Saturday morning when he was involved in a car accident in Buckeye, not far from his home.

He was only retired for two weeks from the Rio Verde Fire District, where he spent the last 15 years of his career.

“He was cheated out of his golden years,” said Hughes.

Merrill’s family say he was not just a fire chief and Marine veteran. He was also a martial arts instructor and his students were very important to him. His family and colleagues say he had a spirit of giving back.

“He truly believed in public service," said Oden. "He believed in helping people in their time of need, and going above and beyond the call."

His fire brothers say they will focus on the life Merrill lived and lessons he left, even after his death.

“Oh, he won’t be forgotten. Not at all," said Hughes. "Everything that he’s done here, it will carry on to the next generations."

Oden also said it is a true reminder of how life can be so precious and fragile, and how quickly it can be taken away.

Merrill's adult son was also in the accident. He was released from the hospital with some broken ribs.

Merrill's wife says the world lost a great man.

The fire union set up a GoFundMe page. It is the only legitimate fundraiser page for Merrill and his family.


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