Members of the Pleasant Grove City Fire Department announced that Lt. Merrill Haas lost his battle with cancer at the age of 55 on Monday.
Haas served residents of Pleasant Grove and Lindon, as well as the surrounding areas, for about 16 years before retiring in June of 2018, according to a statement posted to the department’s Facebook page.
“Lieutenant Merrill Haas will never be forgotten and his teachings and influence will ring out through generations,” the statement read. “Our hearts are heavy and go out to his family and loved ones during this most difficult time.”
Only a few months after his retirement, Haas was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and doctors had discovered the cancer was spreading to his lungs.
Thousands of people attended last year’s Pleasant Grove City Fire Department annual pancake breakfast at Fire Station 71 in Haas’ honor after the department made the announcement that the money raised from the breakfast would be used to help Haas with his medical bills.
Mindi Neilson, a firefighter and paramedic at North Fork Fire Department, worked with Haas at the Pleasant Grove Fire Department for many years.
She recounted the instrumental role Haas played in her fire training, adding that she loved the lieutenant’s “huge, gentle-giant stature.” One of her favorite memories, she said, was her first day an an emergency medical technician and firefighter for Pleasant Grove Fire Department in 2007.
Neilson said she had confused her schedule on her first shift and rushed into work to find Haas waiting for her. She distinctly remembers walking up to him to apologize and facing what felt like a 10-foot-tall giant with a barrel chest and a handlebar mustache.
“I expected a hefty reprimand,” she said. “I apologized a million times over, to which he replied, ‘You can’t show up if you don’t know. Come see the ambulance.’”
Haas and Neilson responded to many calls together over the years. Haas was the protector of the group, she said.
Any car accident or fire the team was dispatched to, the crew knew they could trust him to make sure they would get home safely at the end of each shift. Neilson said he reminded her of Disney’s “Big Hero 6” character Baymax.
“He was kind of a rhino in a china shop in the back of the ambulance but you were always glad he was there with the sketchy patients,” she said.
Neilson said Haas showed people that it’s possible to be “a big strong giant who is willing to put it all on the line” and be “a giant gooey marshmallow,” if that’s what someone needed.