Firefighter’s Death A Big Blow To Small Texas Town

A dedicated volunteer fire chief serving a small community in the Texas Panhandle died this week while searching for people to save inside a burning home.

An autopsy report is forthcoming, but initial reports suggest that veteran firefighter, Zeb Smith, suffered a heart attack while inside the home.

The Hutchinson County Office of Emergency Management reported that Fritch Fire Chief Zeb Smith was the first to respond to an emergency call on Tuesday. He arrived on the scene just after 7:00 a.m. to see a house engulfed in flames.

Without thought for his safety, Smith courageously dashed into the burning structure—planning to assist any trapped inside.

One America News reported that Rapid Response team members found Smith’s body approximately thirty minutes later, but were not able to revive him. According to KFDA 10, Smith died while being transported to Golden Plains Community Hospital.

Brandon Strope, spokesperson for Hutchinson County, reported that officials are “not exactly sure what transpired inside the home” or why Smith, a veteran firefighter, could not exit the building.

When asked by a reporter if the house fire was related to the raging fires in the region, Strope said, “No, this structure fire was not directly related to the ongoing wildfires.”

Strope continued, “However, I would be remiss if I did not say that Chief Smith, along with every other volunteer firefighter in this county and in his department, has responded for the last nine days actively fighting these fires.”

Hutchinson County is ground zero for the ongoing Smokehouse Creek Fire, which has become the largest wildfire in the state’s history. Some suggest Smith had overtaxed his body while fighting that fire for the last nine days.

Local Fox 4 reported that the city of Fritch is located approximately 35 miles northeast of Amarillo and that news of Smith’s death “has hit the city hard.”

Many paused to pay respect as first responders from across the region formed a motorcade and escorted Smith’s body from back home after a brief inquiry into his death.

Smith was well respected in his community of approximately 1800. Hutchinson County Judge Cindy Irwin said the firefighter was “a courageous and devoted public servant who was committed to ensuring the community’s safety.”

“It was his dedication to this duty that ultimately led to his death,” the judge added. “Just as we’ve come together as a community to support one another during these wildfires, we’ll continue to support the family of Chief Smith.”

Allan Wells, who serves as Fire Chief in the nearby town of Stinnett, said, “Not only did I know Chief Smith as a professional colleague, he was also a friend.”

Mayor Dan Davis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott honored Smith in statements posted to X. Gov. Abbott ordered flags throughout the state be lowered to half-staff “in honor of the life and heroic public service of Fire Chief Zeb Smith.”

Smith began serving in the Fritch Volunteer Fire Department in 2017 and became Chief in 2020.

Chief Smith is survived by his wife and two sons.