Friends and relatives from Vinton, as well as the rest of Iowa, are mourning the sudden death of an Ames firefighter who brought one of the most creative costumes to the annual Flaughless 5K.

Steve Buser was found unresponsive after a workout at the end of his shift at the Ames fire station on Friday. A few months ago, he participated in the Fifth and Final Flaughless 5K, wearing the costume he had worn for most of the events: His firefighter’s helmet, a Flaughless 5K t-shirt and kilts.

Buser’s widow, Angie, is a niece of Dr. Brian Meeker and cousin of Georgia (Meeker) Sysouchanh.

“Angie and Steve participated in the race each year,” says Georgia, who organized the Flaughless 5K events.

For the last few years, Steve loved to wear his fireman’s helmet and kilt — designed with a pattern created specifically for firefighters.

“Although they didn’t know Dan Flaugh personally, they came to support the cause and to support me and my family,” says Sysouchanh. “We’re a tight-knit group and rally around and support one another. My extended family was also impacted by suicide when my dad’s brother, Steven Meeker, father to my cousins Angie (Meeker) Buser, Mindy Meeker, and Stori (Meeker) Thompson) took his own life during the farm crisis in the 80s, before I was born.”

Everyone who knew Steve is completely heartbroken by his death, says Sysouchanh.

“No one expected to lose him this early. He exercised every day sometimes twice a day and ate healthy. He did everything right. It just seems so unfair that he was taken so soon, he still had a whole lifetime ahead of him. He was adored by everyone, especially his wife, Angie, and daughter, Braxton, who just graduated high school last year. He was the gold standard of what a husband and father should be. He loved them so much.”

Fire stations from all across Iowa and the national have sent their condolences to the Ames Fire Department and Steve’s family and friends. Several fire departments from around Iowa are sending firefighters to cover the shifts of the AFD so all of the firefighters there can all attend Steve’s funeral on Thursday.

A year and a half ago Steve’s best friend, Scott Mills, who has fought cancer multiple times wanted to run across the state of Iowa in 10 days. So Steve rode his bike alongside Scott for the entire ride, hauling Scott’s gear (see that story HERE). Since Steve was an avid cyclist (he also wore his helmet and kilts on RAGBRAI) they will be honoring Steve this year at an annual bike ride called “The Trail to Nowhere Ride” in Manning, Iowa, which is Scott Mills’ hometown.

Steve was an organ donor, and the Iowa Donor Network offered a tribute to him on its web site.

A Go Fund Me page has also been set up for those who wish to leave memorials.