TRIBUTES have been paid to a “one of a kind” firefighter who suddenly passed away following 18 years of service helping to save lives across Hampshire.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service were informed on Wednesday morning that Michael “Shrek” Szymanski, who served at both Redbridge and Winchester Fire Station, had passed away while he was off duty.

Flags have since been placed at half mast at fire stations across Hampshire and the UK in honour of the 46-year-old.

Tributes have since flooded in for the firefighter, who was also a former volunteer and chairman of New Forest North Scouts.

One of Michael’s colleagues said: “All I can say personally is that Mike - Shrek as we all knew him - was the absolute epitome of the term ‘one of a kind’.

“He lit up any room with his pranks and games and just being him.

“Once met and never forgotten. A kind soul with a devil sense of humour.

“He will be sorely missed by everyone here at Redbridge, his close friends, colleagues, and everyone who ever worked with him.”

Chief Fire Officer Neil Odin said: “Mike’s death comes as a great shock to the Service.

“I know he will be sorely missed by his colleagues especially at Redbridge and Winchester fire stations.

“Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this sad time.

“One of our senior officers is in contact with Mike’s family and we will provide them with all the support they need.”

More than 70 people also paid their respects to Michael across social media.

Michael was cheered on by crowds at Asda’s Totton branch after downing eight Cadbury’s creme eggs in three minutes to win a competition against three volunteers, including firefighter Marcus Hill, back in 2005.

In 2004, the Chronicle's sister paper the Daily Echo reported that he also went up against the store’s publicity woman Liz Bennett to see how long they could sit in a bath full of compost for Children In Need.