Darrell Dean Thomas, the assistant fire chief of the combined Somerton/Cocopah Fire Department, is being remembered by colleagues as a man who could get the job done.

And he was doing his job when he was stricken by a fatal heart attack Saturday.

The 48-year-old Thomas was filling the water tank on his fire truck from a hydrant on the West Cocopah Reservation when he suffered the heart attack. The fire truck was owned by Thomas and was specially designed to fight brush fires, the type that have to be controlled quickly before spreading out of control.

Thomas's truck was equipped with a 500-gallon water tank, considered very large for a brush-firefighting truck. It may have had the biggest tank for a truck of its type in the nation, according to his co-workers.

"He was quiet but strong and always got the job done," said Robby Rodriquez, a spokesman for the Somerton Fire Department.

Thomas began his firefighting career at a volunteer with the Cocopah Fire Department 20 years ago. At that time, he was a officer for the Cocopah Police Department.

He worked as a volunteer until about a year ago, when the Cocopah and Somerton Fire Departments merged to make better use of their resources. Thomas was one of the main people responsible for the merger. He was a forward-looking man and, along with the Somerton/Cocopah Fire Chief Jose Huizar, was working on modernizing the department.

Among the projects Thomas and Huizar were pursuing were building a new fire station and obtaining new firefighting equipment for the department. Thomas also was responsible for local firefighters joining the International Association of Firefighters.

Rodriguez called Thomas a devoted family man who always brought his four children to department functions and community events.

Darrell Dean Thomas, 48, of Somerton, died Dec. 15, 2001, at Yuma Regional Medical Center. A firefighter for Somerton and East Cocopah Indian Fire Department, he was born Dec. 24, 1952, in Phoenix.