There wasn’t a dry eye Monday in the massive Second Baptist Church as Sealy Fire Chief Eric Zapalac was laid to rest, just one week after the 39-year-old died suddenly, sending shock waves through the community.
Zapalac’s wife Kelly and children Nicholas, Lucas and Leah were surrounded by first responders from Sealy and the greater Houston area. The firefighter, who died suddenly Nov. 20, was described as someone who loved fishing, camping, helping others and solving problems.
“The fire service was proud to have a man like Eric,” said Houston Fire Department Capt. Chris Garcia. “There’s two types: ones that work for the department and ones that are the department. Yes, Eric, you are the department. Your commitment and dedication will always be carried out by the younger generations.”
Cliff Langton, an assistant chief at Sealy FD and captain with the Houston Fire Department, provided the eulogy, noting Zapalac’s efforts to save money and save lives in his community.
Zapalac played football in 1994 and 1995 for Coach T.J. Mills’ Sealy Tiger state championship football team, graduating in 1996. Longtime friends Kenneth and Melanie Willingham provided Bible readings.
Houston Fire Department Capt. Kevin Okonski recalled his personal experiences with the fallen firefighter.
“Time does not stand still; neither does it fly by,” Okonski said. “Our time on earth, according to God, is temporary.”
Langton reminded the group of mourners that they were gathered “to memorialize a good and faithful servant.”
His voice cracked with emotion as Langton thanked Zapalac’s parents, Randy Edward and Judy Fay Greak Zapalac.
“You taught him and he taught us,” Langton said. “His upbringing made him mature beyond his years. He didn’t ask the world for permission. He just leaped.”
While Zapalac, described by Langton as a “pain in the brain,” asked more questions than the law allowed, he challenged others to be better.
“He was an aggressive problem solver, which challenged him, and we all know he liked that,” Langton said.
In closing, Langton appealed to the fireman’s widow and asked if she’d been told 16 years ago that she’d be marrying a man who would leave the earth on Nov. 20, 2017, “you would have said yes.”
“You were his rock, his soul mate, his best friend,” he told Kelly McKimmy Zapalac. “The rock bottom you may feel is actually the foundation he wanted for you and the kids … We are all better having walked this journey this far with you.”