If he wasn't fighting fires or jumping from airplanes, Eric Schaefer was probably working in his garden.
The 25-year-old Baltimore native spent much of his spare time raising peppers and tomatoes in the garden behind the Glenmore Avenue home, where he and his wife had settled after their wedding in July.
Mr. Schaefer, a Baltimore firefighter who was killed Saturday during a fire at a Baltimore foundry, will likely be remembered and eulogized in Maryland this week for dying a hero's death.
But friends and relatives said last night their memories are of a lively, flesh-and-blood personality -- a nonstop talker and would-be gourmet cook who loved fighting fires for the city Fire Department and jumping out of airplanes as an Army Reserve paratrooper.
"He loved anything that would give him a rush," Tina Schaefer said last night of her late husband.
Mrs. Schaefer and other relatives said Mr. Schaefer never talked about the dangers of the job he held for 18 months.
"He loved being a firefighter. He just loved everything about the job," said Dorian Schaefer, Mr. Schaefer's father.
He enjoyed camping and reading books about World War II and Vietnam. He had an aquarium with eight fish and was fascinated by snakes -- keeping 15 of them as pets.
"He'd play games with them, sort of tease you with them, say, 'Here take this,' and he'd practically put one on your lap," said William Boyd, a longtime friend.
Mr. Schaefer had the usual culinary tastes. He liked pizza and enjoyed spicing up his taco chips with salsa. But he also enjoyed cooking exotic meals -- tuna steaks and scallops in garlic were his specialties.
Mr. Schaefer and the former Tina Robinson had known each other since they were in school together at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore.
Stories about being a firefighter from his fiancee's grandfather, Kenneth A. Robinson, a retired Baltimore fire captain, and her father, Kenneth B. Robinson, a retired fireboat engineer, inspired the Overlea High School graduate to take the firefighter's exam.
When he was accepted into the Baltimore Fire Academy about two years ago, "He knew he had found his life's work," said Mr. Boyd.
Mr. Schaefer was born in Hamden, the oldest of three sons raised by Dorian Schaefer, a construction worker, and his wife, Suellyn.
Mr. Schaefer attended Archbishop Curley High School for three years and then transferred to Overlea High School, from which he graduated in 1989.
He worked as a picture framer at Total Crafts, a shop in the Parkville Shopping Center, until 1992. Then, he joined the Army Reserve, serving with the 450th Civil Affairs Battalion, an airborne unit based in Riverdale. As a paratrooper, he had 10 jumps to his credit, according to relatives.
Along with his parents and wife, Mr. Schaefer is survived by two brothers, Todd, 22, a dialysis technician in Baltimore, and Chad, 16, a senior at Overlea High School.
Services for Mr. Schaefer are set for 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Francis of Assisi Church on the 3600 block of Harford Road. There will be viewing at the Ruck Funeral Home on the 5300 block of Harford Road from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow and Wednesday.
Mr. Schaefer's family has asked that memorial contributions be sent to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Burn Center.