HOUSTON--Captain Neal Wade Smith was so driven to become a better firefighter that his co-workers say he lost dozens of pounds in just the last year to prepare for an intense training exercise in Beaumont.
Smith, 46, who died last week during that training exercise, was honored in Humble today as a firefighter who, even in training, was always willing to give his all.
"He always did things to the extreme because Neal was determined to make a better life for his family," said Chaplain Skip Straus.
Smith, survived by his wife Penny and their two young children, was honored Monday at funeral services held at the First Assembly of God Church. Representatives of the U.S. Navy and firefighters from departments as far away as Bastrop attended the services to pay tribute to the volunteer firefighter and Navy veteran.
Smith, who rose to the rank of captain in just four years with the Atascocita Volunteer Fire Department, collapsed September 17th during that training exercise in Beaumont. Doctors say the preliminary investigation shows Smith likely died of a heat-related illness.
He reportedly had a body temperature as high as 106 degrees. Co-workers say he was dressed in full bunker gear and involved in an exercise where firefighters are trained to rescue themselves from dangerous situations.
"He will be missed and I will miss him," said District Chief Donnie Neiman who delivered the eulogy. "I know of no other words than that. I love you my friend and will miss you."
His co-workers described Smith as a dedicated and diligent firefighter who joined the department with a youthful man’s enthusiasm at the relatively late age of 42.
"Penny and family, Neal wasn’t a good fireman. Neal was a great fireman," said Atascocita Deputy Chief Mike Mulligan speaking to Smith’s widow and family.
"Neal’s gone," added Mulligan after the service. "Neal’s gone because he gave everything he could to the fire service. And he is truly dedicated, and was truly dedicated to the last. I want people to know that Neal Smith gave everything he had to everything he did. I think Neal had a tremendous heart to serve."
Smith is the first from the Atascocita Fire Department to die in the line of duty.
He will be buried later this week in Wichita, Kansas where he grew up.