A decade ago, with flames ripping through a hallway in an apartment building on Huntington Avenue, Paul J. Cahill proved his mettle.
Manning the nozzle of a fully pressured hose, the firefighter from Scituate charged toward the blaze, pushing it back as it threatened to engulf him and the building. On his own, he beat the flames into a small room, confining them there while others helped extinguish what remained.
"He was really aggressive," said Captain Pat Nichols, who worked with Cahill for years. "He was the kind of guy you wanted at the front."
On Wednesday night, Paul J. Cahill, 55, a father of three, was one of two firefighters who died when a roof collapsed during the fire they fought in a West Roxbury restaurant. They were assigned to the firehouse on Centre Street, home to Engine 30 and Ladder 25.
Cahill, his wife, Anne, and two of their three children had driven to Maine Saturday for a vacation on Chebeague Island in Casco Bay, Anne Cahill said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Cahill went bike riding and fishing with his daughter, Shauna, 19, and son, Adam, 21, before returning to Boston on Monday morning so he could work that night, Anne Cahill said. He was due to return to Maine yesterday morning, after his shift ended at 8 a.m., she said. Instead, one of Cahill's sisters called Anne shortly after 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to tell her that her husband had been injured in the fire. A short time later, Fire Commissioner Roderick J. Fraser told her that Cahill had died.
The Boston Fire Department arranged for a ferry to take Anne and her children to their car on the mainland, Anne Cahill said. Three Boston police cruisers, accompanied by a firefighter who knew Cahill, escorted the family back to the city.
Memories of the vacation have given Cahill's family some comfort, she said.
"We had an awesome time, just the four of us," she said. "It's going to be great for us to remember this. It was a great trip, and he had a ball."
Their oldest son, Brendan, 28, a former Marine, was in San Diego, where he lives. He was en route to Boston yesterday.
Born in Boston, Paul Cahill grew up in Dedham, the oldest of six. He and Anne began dating when he was 19 and she was 17, and they married in 1973, she said.
After graduating from Dedham High School, Cahill joined the Navy, serving on a tugboat in Newport, R.I., his wife said. After leaving the Navy, he became an electrician.
Cahill joined the Boston Fire Department in May 1993, following in a family tradition of public service. Cahill's father, Patrick, and uncle, George Lotti, both worked as detectives for the Boston Police Department, Anne said. His sister is retired from the State Police, she said.
"He loved firefighting," Anne Cahill said of her husband. "He didn't join until he was 40, and he wished he had done it earlier. He loved the camaraderie, and he was always ready to help someone. He was a real team player."
Cahill enjoyed fishing, taking vacations, walking along the beach, and gardening, his wife said.
"He was a simple man," she said. "He had to work two jobs to support his family, and we spent a lot of time in the house with the kids and the kids' friends. He was truly a good person, and a wonderful father."
"He was a hero," she said.
At the station, firefighters looked to Cahill for everything from help with all things electrical to fixing dinner. "He was always there to do something for you," Nichols said.