Firefighter James Rice was laid to rest Friday. The 11-year veteran of the Peabody Fire Department died two days before Christmas, after battling a three-alarm blaze. Friday morning he was remembered and honored by firefighters from all over the region.
Thousands of residents and dignitaries, including Gov. Deval Patrick, lined the streets of Peabody to pay their respects as Engine No. 5 passed by, carrying his casket. Firefighters in dress uniforms raised their white gloved hands in a final salute.
Fire Captain Jay Dowling, Rice’s longtime friend and colleague, led the procession, cradling a firefighter’s helmet in his hands. Later, inside St. John Baptist Church, Dowling remembered his friend as a family man and a hero.
"None of his will ever forget him. When we respond to those calls for help we will do so with Jim in our hearts and in our memories," Dowling said.
Rice died on Dec. 23 fighting a fire in an apartment building. All the residents survived. The exact cause of Rice’s death has not been released. Peabody Fire Chief Steve Pasdon acknowledged the grief of Rice’s colleagues.
"You are a well-trained and equipped fire department, and please remember that you didn’t leave your brother firefighter alone," Pasdon said. "When you realized he was missing you quickly and efficiently rescued Jim from the fire. Please take comfort in that."
John Spofford was one of the firefighters who worked alongside Rice.
"He loved every sport. Every time you around Jimmy he was [going to] talk sports or family, one of the two. That's what we loved about him," Spofford said.
At least 100 firefighters came from Worcester to pay their respects — a community that also lost a firefighter in December.
Lt. Joe Blanchard from Worcester has been a firefighter for 28 years. At the wake Thursday, he said the sense of community helps firefighters handle the grief.
"It's one of them things. It's hard you just do," Blanchard said. "All these guys here supporting him. That’s what helps you."
Rice leaves behind his wife Amy and three children. He joined the fire service in 2001 after a previous career in banking.
Dowling said Rice was his best friend and was someone you could trust and depend on.
"We will hold your great smile and loving spirit close to our hearts to guide and inspire us until we meet again," Dowling said. "My life is better for having known Jim Rice. I will always and forever miss you buddy. May you rest in piece."
Rice’s father Brian also spoke about this son. He said the heartfelt outpouring of support was not because he died, but because Jim Rice lived. Because of his courage, compassion and good deeds.
This program aired on December 30, 2011.