Robert E. Barkman, 63, a retired Toledo Fire Department battalion chief who was a paramedic and on the dive team in his 24-year career, died Tuesday in his Leland, N.C., home of an apparent heart attack.
"He died in his sleep," his son, Brian, said.
Mr. Barkman swam a mile at least twice a week, his son said.
"He was in great health," his son said. "It was definitely a life cut short."
Mr. Barkman, formerly of Sylvania, retired in 1996 as a battalion chief. He was promoted to the position in 1988.
"We became battalion chiefs together," Toledo fire Chief Mike Wolever said. "He was a professional's professional. He knew his job very well. He was highly thought of by folks who worked for him and folks whom he worked for."
He and Chief Wolever became friends years earlier when they were lifeguards at the Catholic Club while students at the University of Toledo. More recently, they took diving vacations in the Caribbean.
Mr. Barkman became a firefighter in 1972 and a paramedic four years later, Chief Wolever said. He received promotions to lieutenant, then captain.
"He was an excellent paramedic and an excellent firefighter, and he carried that all into his role as battalion chief," Chief Wolever said.
"He was pretty good at everything. He had a good sense of running fires, of the priorities, and [was] very safety conscious of the safety of the crews who worked underneath him at fires."
He urged Chief Wolever, later in the 1970s, to become a firefighter, touting it as the best job in the world, an exciting career, "a great opportunity to help people," Chief Wolever recalled. "And we did."
Jim Dugan, a retired Toledo fire lieutenant, said that when Mr. Barkman was in command at a fire scene, he was serious.
"He didn't mess around," said Mr. Dugan, a former president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92 and a former head of the firefighters' health plan. "He didn't mince words and suffer fools kindly. He didn't have a temper, but if you messed up, especially if you were an officer, he would let you know, and you corrected it."
They were on opposite sides of the bargaining table, and they were friends. Their families vacationed together. Mr. Dugan moved nearby in retirement.
"He had kind of a wry, quiet sense of humor," Mr. Dugan said. "You could sit with him over a beer or sit on the beach. You might go for quite a while without saying anything. And you didn't feel you had to say anything."
While on the fire department, Mr. Barkman also was a co-owner of the Bier Stube and was a dispatcher for St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center's Life Flight, his son said.
Born May 30, 1946, in Queens, N.Y., he was the son of Margaret and Francis E. Barkman. His father, a lawyer, was hired to the faculty of the UT law school in 1956, and the family moved to Toledo. Mr. Barkman was a graduate of Rogers High School.
He also was an Army veteran and was stationed in South Korea, his son said.
In retirement, he, his wife, Ginny, and son moved to Leland, N.C., and built a home a few minutes from the ocean.
"We moved down here because they always loved going to the beach, and they followed that dream," his son said.
He became a father figure to his son's friends. They came over to the house for meals, and "he was always the guy who took us to soccer practice," his son said. "He affected people's lives for the better, even after the fire department."
Surviving are his wife, Virginia "Ginny" Barkman; son, Brian Barkman; mother, Margaret Barkman, and brothers, David and Fred Barkman.
A celebration of life service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Hopewell Presbyterian Church, Burgaw, N.C. Arrangements are by the Wilmington Burial and Cremation Service, Wilmington, N.C.
The family suggests tributes to the American Heart Association, Glen Allen, Va.