For countless 24-hour shifts last year, members of the Harker Heights Fire Department bonded with firefighter and paramedic Joel Lytle.

Lytle joined the department after nine years of service with Killeen’s Fire Department until December 2014.

Often first responders call each other brothers and sisters because of the time spent with each other and the moments they share — both happy and tragic.

Lytle himself spoke of that bond in a December 2012 interview with the Herald while still serving with KFD.

 “You work with these guys for 24 hours, it becomes, they’re like family,” he said. “Our families are real close, too.”

A few weeks later, in a January 2013 interview, Lytle spoke about fundraising efforts for a fellow KFD firefighter diagnosed with Stage II Hodgkins lymphoma.

“All of us here, we’re like a brotherhood. He’s our family. We take care of our own,” he said.

Lytle died unexpectedly at the age of 37 following a health-related call at his residence on Dec. 9 — a call that Lytle himself often responded to in his nearly 10 years of public service.

Last week, members of the Harker Heights Fire Department took care of their own — from escorting Lytle’s body for autopsy in Dallas, to escorting him back to Killeen and staying by his side until burial.

They also remained by the side of the Lytle family during all funeral preparations.

HHFD’s loss is one I somewhat understand. My uncle was a firefighter for years in small New York community. His son, my cousin Ross Riley, followed the public service footsteps — first as a Marine and later joined the New York State Police as a trooper.

He was also a paramedic with Allegany Rescue and EMS. He tragically died while simulating a rescue training exercise in one of New York’s state parks in November 2013.

So all first responders have my respect and a special place in my heart, which is why I commend them in their time of grief.

How many lives Lytle potentially saved during his service is unknown. How many lives were saved the day and days following his death are unknown, but the legacy continues.

During Lytle’s memorial service, retired Capt. Billy Brooks, a former Killeen Fire Department supervisor of Lytle’s, spoke about Lytle’s love of children.

Prior to his death, members of the HHFD were prepping to collect toys and food for the annual Santa Pal program held in conjunction with the Lions Club to distribute meals and toys to those in need on Monday.

Details about the 256 children served are in today’s edition.

On Christmas Eve, firefighters and paramedics escorted Santa to meet with families, which by the way I think Santa hanging out with first responders speaks for itself.

There’s no doubt members of HHFD will continue Lytle’s legacy — to save lives, and put smiles on the faces of children and others in the community; and to do so a week after a death of one of their brothers I think is admirable.

At Lytle’s service last week, someone said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be tragic if the death of the person who always made you smile causes you to stop smiling?”

Someone shared Gen. George S. Patton’s quote when my cousin died, and I think it applies to the loss last week as well.

“(Don’t) mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”

Rachael Riley covers Harker Heights and Nolanville for the Herald. Contact her at rriley@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7553.

Contact Rachael Riley at rriley@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7553

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