A Queen Creek fire captain died in his sleep at a station Saturday.
Capt. Eric Tinkham, 44, was last seen alive Friday night and when his crew members tried to wake him at 7 a.m. he was unresponsive, according to Marnie Schubert, Queen Creek town spokeswoman.
Tinkham was one of the original firefighters hired by the town when the department began operation on Jan. 1, 2008.
He has worked as a firefighter for 24 years, most of them with Rural/Metro Fire Department, according to Fire Marshal Jon Spezzacatena.
"He was a great guy, real personable," Spezzacatena said. "He loved being a firefighter, he loved being a captain. He died doing what he loved to do."
He is survived by his wife and three daughters.
Since Tinkham died while on duty, he will be given full honors at his funeral, Spezzacatena said, meaning it will be filled with ritual.
All Queen Creek firefighters were sent home and Gilbert and Mesa fire departments were manning the stations.
"The guys who found him are taking it kind of hard," Spezzacatena said.
It is common among fire departments for the captain to sleep apart from the crew.
Tinkham was a practical joker and his crew believed he was pulling a prank when he didn't immediately answer their knocks, Spezzacatena said.
Paramedics worked on him and he was taken to an emergency room in Gilbert, where he was pronounced dead.