The St Marys Fire Department in southeast Georgia confirmed in a statement on Monday that Efren Medina, 20, died during his first shift in the early hours of Saturday morning.
“Firefighter Medina was a newly hired firefighter and working his first shift,” a statement from the department on Facebook read. “He was known for his longtime passion for firefighting and his love of the fire service.”
The department said that Mr Medina died in his sleep at the local fire station after returning from an overnight call in the area during his 24-hour shift.
Mr Medina was found unresponsive by colleagues in the fire station on Saturday morning, after he had returned to the facility a few hours earlier at around 3:30am.
St Marys Fire Department chief Tom Lackner told First Coast News on Monday that Mr Medina was “eager” to start his career and said that his death was premature.
“A 20-year-old shouldn’t be going,” Mr Lackner said, adding: “You never think that somebody 20 years old isn’t going to wake up from their sleep.”
The department confirmed that Mr Medina had recently passed physical and agility tests he had to undertake before working as a firefighter, with Mr Lackner adding to ActionNewsJax.com: “Everything came back clear.”
The US Fire Administration confirmed that an investigation into Mr Medina’s death is ongoing, while a medical examiner will determine his cause of death.
One of Mr Medina’s friends set up a GoFundMe page following his death to support his wife Brittany Vasquez and to help her pay for any costs surrounding his funeral.
“Efren was a wonderful brother, son, husband and friend to all,” the organiser wrote. “He was very caring, cheerful, and hardworking. Efren was dedicated to working towards becoming a fireman and selflessly helping others also being an EMT,” they added.
By Thursday afternoon, the GoFundMe page had raised $7,015 (£5,066) for Ms Vasquez, close to double the original goal of $4,000 (£2,889).
Department officials confirmed that a celebration of Mr Medina’s life will be held on Thursday from 3pm to 5pm, writing in the announcement: “Journey well, our brother.”