JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man who died Saturday as he was preparing to be a firefighter was a “good, kind young man,” his mother said, and his family is at loss to understand why he died.
Police said 23-year-old Xavier Allen Jr., a student training at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Fire Academy of the South, passed out after an agility test and never regained consciousness.
Witnesses told News4Jax that Allen had passed the physical fitness test, but collapsed on the ground a little while later. Firefighters tried to save him, but he died at the hospital.
“He was just a big teddy bear,” said Allen's mother, La'Treasia Allen. “We would just squeeze him. He just made you feel good. He was just a good guy, seriously good guy.”
La'Treasia Allen said her son wanted to be a firefighter after he helped a man who lost his arm in an industrial accident last year. After that, he enrolled at FSCJ with a passion to make a difference, she said.
The agility exercise that Xavier Allen had completed is a requirement for recruits to show that they are physically fit for the position.
“He knew the agility test was coming when we went to the orientation from the very beginning,” La'Treasia Allen said. “He's like ‘OK mom, I got to get my workout on, got to eat right.’”
La'Treasia Allen (pictured with Xavier at his high school graduation from Ribault) said her son didn’t have any previous medical conditions that would have caused him to collapse after the test. The medical examiner will conduct an autopsy to find out what happened.
“He had recently had a physical, had it signed off by a doctor,” Chief Sheldon Reed said. “It is part of our application process.”
Reed, who is the director of the well-respected Fire Academy, was there when Allen collapsed.
“We establish a safety culture,” Reed said. “We try and take every precaution that we can, and it's just tough.”
Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville firefighter's union, called Allen's death a tragedy.
“Some of the best firefighters we have are there, so they gave him a fighting chance and did all they could do to save him,” Wyse said.
Allen's family said his funeral will be at 11 a.m. Nov. 19 at the Phillippian Community Church on New Kings Road with a public viewing on Nov. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m. at T.S. Warden Funeral Home on Main Street North. The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help with funeral expenses.
In the meantime, there are three separate investigations into Allen's death being conducted by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Florida State College at Jacksonville and the State Fire Marshal's Office.
Jill Johnson, FSCJ's director of marketing and communications, gave the following statement:
Our deepest sympathies go out to the family as we grieve the loss of a young man with a desire to serve others through public service. As we await medical results, we stand ready to assist the family. Our 24/7 student assistance program is available to students by calling (904) 384-1800."
In 2005, when the Fire Academy was run by the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, 22-year-old Karl Kramer collapsed from heat stroke during fire rescue physical fitness training and died at the hospital.