See more of the story

The Howard Lake fire chief suffered a suspected heart attack and died hours after responding to an emergency call, city officials said Tuesday.

Daryl “Taddy” Drusch, 49, died early Monday at his home west of Howard Lake, and his body was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office in Minneapolis for an autopsy, according to the Minnesota Fire Service Foundation.

Drusch’s body traveled Tuesday afternoon from the examiner’s office to a funeral home in Cokato as part of a one-hour ceremony with numerous firefighting vehicles acting as escorts. The 50-mile route stretched from downtown Minneapolis onto westbound Interstate 394 and then connecting to Hwy. 12 before arriving at the Swanson Peterson Funeral Home.

Fire departments positioned personnel and their rigs to pay respects from overpasses or alongside the route. Participating departments were from Minneapolis, Golden Valley, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, Wayzata, Long Lake, Maple Plain, Delano, South Haven, Clearwater, Montrose, Waverly, Buffalo, Hanover, Monticello, St. Michael, Albertville, Annandale, Cokato, Rockford and Maple Lake. Further arrangements are pending.

The chief was called from his home west of Howard Lake about 8:10 p.m. Sunday regarding a vehicle initially reported to be submerged in an icy retaining pond north of town, said Jay Wood, president of the Fire Service Foundation.

Drusch and others arrived to find the vehicle had not broken through the ice. The chief returned home, and 911 was called less than 6½ hours later and told that Drusch was stricken and not breathing, according to emergency dispatch audio.

Drusch’s death is classified as coming in the line of duty because of how soon it occurred after the emergency call. A final confirmation by Minnesota and U.S. agencies would free up survivor benefits for Drusch’s heirs.

Firefighters are more prone to sudden death than the U.S. population as a whole, partly from being summoned while in a deep sleep at a moment’s notice for an array of emergencies.

Drusch was a 30-year veteran of Howard Lake Fire and Rescue, most recently as chief since 2014. He leaves behind his wife, Julie, and a 15-year-old son, Taylor.

“Taddy is remembered as being a dedicated, strong leader, devoted husband and loving father,” read a statement from the foundation, which coordinates efforts to recognize firefighters who die in the line of duty and provides support and resources to departments, firefighters and their families.

“The loss is especially difficult” for the Howard Lake department, the foundation’s statement continued, because Drusch’s “extended family is active in the department,” with four members serving.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482