By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Fallen Peabody firefighter Jim Rice will be honored with the Medal of Honor at a ceremony Tuesday in Worcester as part of the annual Firefighter of the Year Awards.
A number of North Shore firefighters are also scheduled to receive awards from Gov. Deval Patrick at the event.
Only two days before Christmas last year, Rice collapsed and died while fighting a three-alarm fire at an apartment house on Hancock Street. The fire was of an intensity that crews were at one point driven from the building.
Charged with looking for occupants, Rice was between the second and third floors, facing the flames and heavy smoke, including toxic fumes, when he fell. He sent out a distress call.
Also to be recognized is Deputy Chief Eric Harrison — then a captain — who, according to the fire marshal’s office, passed several crews held back by the blaze and heavy smoke in an effort to locate Rice. On the second floor, Harrison abandoned the relative safety of the hose line to do it. When found, sadly, the fallen man was “unresponsive.”
Harrison next carried Rice over a number of obstacles to his waiting fellows. Though rushed to Salem Hospital, the stricken Rice could not be revived.
“The Medal of Honor is the highest award the governor presents each year,” said Jennifer Mieth of the state fire marshal’s office. “This year, it will go to the people who have sacrificed the most.”
Also receiving a posthumous Medal of Honor will be Worcester firefighter Jon Davies, who died only days before Rice when a building he was in collapsed.
Rice is survived by his wife, Amy, and three children, Alyssa, 13, Katelyn, 10, and Ryan, 8.
“It’s another way to honor Jim and to recognize him,” Peabody Deputy fire Chief Joe Daly said yesterday. “And let me tell you, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think about Jim.”
This year especially, Daly stressed, the Worcester gathering will have an impact on Rice’s Peabody colleagues.
The fire marshal’s office normally withholds key details about the awards until the event but decided this year to alert everyone that Rice and Davies would be remembered, according to Mieth.
A number of Salem firefighters will also accept awards next week. Lt. Richard Arno and firefighters Randy Theriault and Michael O’Donnell will be cited for their work on the night of March 18 in rescuing two children from a fire allegedly set by their mother, Tanicia Goodwin.
Goodwin is also accused of slashing the children’s throats, leaving them for dead. She then allegedly spread accelerant all over the apartment and removed the door knobs. Hundreds had to be evacuated from the Salem Heights apartment complex.
The firefighters acted quickly in realizing what was happening, searching through the smoke and heat and rescuing the children, who survived.
Four more Peabody firefighters will be named, including Capt. Dale Kimball, Paul Rheaume, Stephen Pellegrini and Paul LaPlante, as a result of their work on Dec. 11, 2011, rescuing a man who crashed his car into a house on Herrick Street. The vehicle had rolled over and exploded into flames.
It wasn’t until they were warned by Peabody police that the firefighters realized there was still someone in the car.
Using a “pencil ladder,” two of the men climbed atop the burning car and pulled the driver through the passenger-side window.