Peabody firefighter died while department battled three-alarm fire

Peabody firefighters pause outside the apartment building where Firefighter James Rice was fatally injured today.
Peabody firefighters pause outside the apartment building where Firefighter James Rice was fatally injured today. –Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

PEABODY — A veteran Peabody firefighter was killed this afternoon when he inhaled toxic fumes while battling a three-alarm fire inside an apartment building, Peabody Fire Chief Steven Padson said.

At an evening press conference, a somber Padson said the cause of Rice’s death is the subject of an intense investigation by multiple agencies. He said no firm explanation has been established for the fatal incident.

However, he added that Rice “did take in some toxic fumes and he did succumb.’’

Padson said the fatal incident happened when Rice was somewhere between the first and second floors of the three-story building at 5 Hancock St. The chief said he did not know if Rice had exhausted his air supply.

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He said Rice was provided emergency medical assistance by firefighters and emergency medical technicians at the scene. However, Rice was later pronounced dead at the North Shore Medical Center in Salem.

Padson said Rice was 46 years old, an 11-year-veteran of the Peabody Fire Department and a father of three children.

“I can say that Firefighter James Rice was loved and liked by everybody,’’ Padson said. “He will be missed by the Peabody Fire department and throughout the entire city of Peabody.’’

The death of the Peabody firefighter comes just 15 days after Worcester Firefighter Jon D. Davies Sr. was killed when he and his firefighting partner rushed back into a burning apartment building to search for a tenant who was reported to be inside.

The building collapsed, killing Davies. Authorities said the tenant had already left he building before Davies went looking for him.

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan joined Padson at the press conference tonight and immediately spoke of Davies’ death.

“Here we go again,’’ said Coan. “I never thought I would be standing here today, so soon after the tragedy and the burial of Firefighter Davies in Worcester last week.’’

Coan said the fire is under investigation by State Police troopers assigned to his office, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives and Peabody firefighters.

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He said the investigation will include a detailed look into the property’s history, including whether it has been the subject of code enforcement actions by the city.

Worcester Deputy Fire Chief Geoffrey Gardell said the deaths were “all too close’’ and that his department would send a contingent of firefighters to pay tribute to Rice’s sacrifice.

“Our hearts are with them,’’ he said in a telephone interview tonight.

Edward A. Kelly, president of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts union, asked Massachusetts residents to remember Rice and his family in their prayers.

“We ask that people please pray for them, that their privacy is respected and that they are given their time to grieve,’’ Kelly said.

One resident was also rushed to the hospital, but they were reported to be in good condition.