Peabody firefighter James Rice rushed into a three-family home last December, fighting through heavy smoke, searching for victims. He collapsed on the second floor of the building and was carried out of the burning home by a fellow firefighter. Rice did not survive.
The same month, Worcester firefighter John Davies entered a burning three-family building looking for a person trapped in a rear bedroom. Davies was on the first floor when the roof, attic, and two floors above him collapsed and killed him.
The two heroes made the ultimate sacrifice and received medals of honor posthumously at Tuesday’s 23d annual Firefighter of the Year awards ceremony. The men lost their lives in the line of duty last December, a month the state fire marshal said was particularly cruel to firefighters.
“Last December, the Commonwealth lost two brave firefighters from Peabody and Worcester,” Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray said in a statement. “Today, we pay tribute to those brave men and their families, and honor all of the heroic men and women of the fire service who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect our communities.”
Governor Deval Patrick, Secretary of Public Safety and Security Mary Elizabeth Heffernan, and Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan recognized the acts of heroism and presented 31 awards to 72 honorees Tuesday morning at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, the state fire marshal’s office said.
Firefighters from Bridgewater, Brookline, Easton, Hyannis, Leominster, Lynn, Maynard, Peabody, Salem, Saugus, Stow, Swansea, Westfield, and Worcester were honored during the ceremony.
“On behalf of the Commonwealth, we thank all the firefighters, their families, and loved ones for their service and courage to keep us safe,” Patrick said. “We appreciate, honor, and value your sacrifices and selflessness in the face of danger.”
Rice, 42, an 11-year veteran Peabody firefighter, was searching for victims of the three-alarm fire on Hancock Street two days before Christmas and was met by choking smoke and flames.
Deputy Chief Eric Harrison learned of a downed firefighter on the second floor and raced up the stairs with his crew. Harrison located Rice, who was unresponsive, and carried him out of the house.
Rice was taken to Salem Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
He leaves his wife, Amy, and three children, Alyssa, 13, Katelyn, 10, and Ryan, 8.
Davies, 43, a 17-year veteran of the Worcester Fire Department, was pulled from the rubble by fellow firefighters but did not survive. He leaves three sons, two of whom are in the military, including one serving in Afghanistan, and a third as a Worcester firefighter.
Joel Beaulieu, 36, a Swansea firefighter, was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2011, as an Army security force platoon leader, according to Coan. In July 2011, Beaulieu’s patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Despite his own injuries, he crawled through the debris and dragged a civilian interpreter to safety. Beaulieu was promoted to first lieutenant and awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and Purple Heart.
He received the Patriot Award at Tuesday’s ceremony.Melissa Werthmann
can be reached at melissa.