ALTUS, Okla. (TNN) - Altus firefighters from the past and present are remembering a retired Altus Firefighter who died from an unexpected illness Tuesday.
Tommy Sadler joined the Altus Fire Department in 1978, reaching the rank of captain before retiring in 2012 after 34 years.
"Twenty-two of those years I got to serve with Tommy. He mentored me. He was my friend. He was my leader. He taught me a lot about life. To work with Tommy was a joy. I can honestly say I never heard him say anything bad about anybody,” said Interim Altus Fire Chief Joe Buchanan.
Sadler’s friends described him as one of those people that once you meet, you just connect with.
"If you’ve ever met him once, the next time you see him you felt like you’ve known him forever. That’s why he made such an impact on all the people he came in contact with,” said retired Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Rogers.
That connection was so deep in the Altus community that yesterday, when news of his deteriorating health began to spread, nearly 100 people came to the fire station to join hands and pray. But, even after his retirement in Altus, Sadler continued to compete in the world firefighter games, where he impacted people all over the world.
"I’ve gotten personal notifications from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Afghanistan. Just guys that know Tommy, that have competed with him at worlds. Tommy wasn’t the fastest. A lot of these guys it’s like naming who won the Super Bowl two years ago, if you didn’t have a rooting interest you don’t know. But Tommy had a way of maybe he didn’t finish first but he was always there, always competing and it was an honor to run with him,” Rogers said.
Rogers said he would routinely be roommates with Sadler when they were on the road at the firefighter competitions and says his favorite memory of him happened at a competition in 2009, Sadler was 59 years old.
"Tommy comes out of the tent and he’s running against a guy, I don’t even know where the young man was from. He was about 30 years old, about 6′3, 225-pound Greek God built. And here’s Tommy,” Rogers said.
Rogers said Sadler quickly fell behind in the challenge, but that it ended just like so many of the other ones, as Sadler passed his competitor about 75 feet before the finish line and won the race.
"Tommy finishes the course and you’re wearing breathing air and wearing your equipment, and they take that equipment off of him and the other young man. The other young man, they pick him up off the canvas and they have to carry him off and they can’t breathe and Tommy who just beat him, and is 58 or 59 years old, grabbed a bottle of water, took a drink and asked, 'what’d I run?’,” Rogers said.
Rogers and Buchanan say they, as well as countless others, will greatly miss their friend and they ask that everyone keep his family in their thoughts and prayers.