Middleton firefighters are mourning one of their own who was found dead at an Alaskan trailhead Tuesday.
Staff Sgt. Tanner Allen Volkers' body was found at the Basher Trailhead in East Anchorage by Anchorage Police Department search teams.
Volkers, 22, a 673rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, had been stationed in Alaska at Joint Base Elemdorf-Richardson since January 2010.
Middleton EMS and Community Relations Officer Victor Islas said Volkers was 16 when he joined the Explorers program, aimed at giving students a chance to experience life on a fire crew and decide if it was a career path they wanted to pursue.
For Volkers, firefighting was a perfect fit.
"Tanner fell in love with it," Islas said. "It's something he wanted to do since he was a kid."
As a senior at Vallivue High School, Volkers decided he wanted more involvement than the Explorers program could provide. He entered the fire academy, graduating at 18 as one of Middleton's youngest recruits, Islas said.
With a current roster of nine career staff and 33 reserve staff, the small crews at Middleton Fire form a tight-knit group.
"Fire is like the military: once you're in, you're in," Islas said. "You're family."
That fire family was particularly close for Volkers: his mother works as an emergency medical technician for Middleton Fire, and his younger brother also joined the Explorers program.
Islas became emotional as he talked about Volkers, calling him "an extraordinary guy."
"He had this smile that would light up the room," Islas said. "He would do anything for anybody."
In 2010, Volkers decided to join the Air Force, another fitting choice. Volkers delighted in the Fourth of July, decorating his house yearly with American flags as the holiday drew close, Islas said.
Emergencies don't pause for the firefighters' grief.
"We still have to answer the 911 calls and requests for services for our citizens," Islas said. "It hurts, but we've got to keep doing our job."
The firefighters are also focused on making sure Volkers' family has the support they need, providing meals, transportation and a 24/7 willingness to talk, Islas said.
On Monday, Islas will travel to Alaska with Volkers' family to retrieve his body.
"We're there for each other," he said. "He was one of our firefighters, one of our brothers. Right now, the important thing is that we take care of the family."
The details surrounding the death are still shrouded in mystery, even for those closest to him.
"Because he is active force, the military has not released that to us yet," Islas said.
The Anchorage Police Department has not released a cause of death, either.
Police say Volkers gathered some of his personal belongings and left home on Saturday, police said. His mother filed a missing persons report the next day.
Police released a description and asked for the public's help in locating the man. A department release stated investigators had not discovered anything suspicious about the disappearance, but noted that Volkers had some health concerns.
A search team found a body, later identified as the missing man, on Tuesday.
A "celebration of life" will be held Saturday, Dec. 21 at Centennial Baptist Church in Caldwell. The memorial will begin at 1 p.m. and is open to the public.
A private funeral will be held sometime after that, Islas said.
"Although he's not going to physically be here with us, he'll always be in our hearts in the way he touched us and taught us," Islas said.
Katie Terhune: 377-6219