Firefighters at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard got time to say good-bye to their colleague, but they're still struggling to make sense of it all.
At 41, Robert "Tim" Staepel was at the top of his game, a longtime firefighter and president of IAFF Local F-61.
On Nov. 22, Staepel called 911 from his home in Cherry Hill, N.J. He went into cardiac arrest shortly after the ambulance crew arrived. He never regained consciousness, and died Friday, Nov. 25, a day shy of his 42nd birthday.
The day before he collapsed, Firefighter/EMT Staepel had participated in a live burn exercise with other firefighters, said Pete Marchinonis, his best friend.
"He was the best guy in the world. In addition to being my best friend, he was my son's godfather," Marchinonis said. "We're numb. We're all numb."
Staepel, who started out volunteering in his hometown fire company in New Jersey, was hired as a federal firefighter 11 years ago. He is the first in his department to die in the line of duty..
"Tim had a great sense of humor. He was an avid Eagles fan. We shared season tickets. We always had a good time."
Marchinonis, who was with his buddy when he died, said the void is being felt by everyone. "We walk into his office, and it doesn't seem real. It just isn't real".
Visitation is set for Wednesday from 7-9 p.m. and 9-10 a.m. Thursday at Schetter Funeral Home in Cherry Hill, N.J.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph's Pro-Cathedral in Camden, N.J.
Anyone wanting information about fire department participation should call the Cherry Hill Fire Co. at 856-795-9805.