The fire family at the Rio Verde Fire District (RVFD) is grieving the loss of a former deputy chief.
Eric Merrill, 59, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who recently retired after 40 years in the fire/EMS service, died in a car accident over Memorial Day weekend.
Merrill was driving northbound on Palo Verde Road in Buckeye when a vehicle going eastbound on Yuma Road T-boned his truck. Merrill’s son was also involved in the crash and suffered nonlife-threatening injuries.
“It’s believed from the initial investigation that the car traveling eastbound ran the stop sign, and that’s how the collision occurred,” said Donna Rossi, a spokeswoman for the Buckeye Police Department.
Rossi noted the tragic irony behind the death of Merrill — who spent the last 15 years of his career working at the RVFD, which serves the Verdes communities and surrounding areas.
“The irony is that he drove past Scottsdale every day for the last 15 years — and he loses his life a couple blocks from his home. It’s just a horrible tragedy, two weeks after retiring,” Rossi said.
Fire Chief Jay Ducote, who worked alongside Merrill for 20 years, also calls the accident ironic. He said Memorial Day weekend will never be the same for him.
“It’s ironic that he was a guy who had six years as a Marine, honorably discharged, and all those years providing paramedic service to the communities all across the Valley; and we lose him on Memorial Day weekend,” Ducote said.
Ducote remembers Merrill as his right-hand man who paved the way for a lot of opportunities at the RFVD.
“Rio Verde Fire District was one of the first agencies to get what’s called a ‘Premier EMS Agency of Arizona.’ That is given through the Department of Health Services, and there’s a few benchmarks you need for that — electronic patient care reporting; good documentation; CQI,” Ducote explained. “Eric is the one who ran that and got us that significant honor at DHS.”
Ducote added because of their trust in Merrill, the Mayo Clinic Hospital — RFVD’s base hospital — worked with the district on “new and exciting” projects and programs.
“Just because we were a small fire district, he didn’t hold back,” he said.
And in regard to his knowledge of paramedicine, Ducote said Merrill knew the answer to everything.
“He was a great mentor; a great teacher for all of our paramedics. You never saw him get angry. He was very calm — even when he was a paramedic and we’d get on those bad car accidents,” Ducote said.
“Always soothing, just put everybody in their place. There was a way about him that we’re going to miss.”
An investigation and accident reconstruction is ongoing. Charges and prosecution decisions will be determined by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office when the Buckeye Police Department completes its report.
Merrill is survived by his wife and two adult children.
A GoFundMe page was set up to support the Merrill family. To make a donation, visit gofundme.com/f/rvfd-eric-merrill-family-fund.