PEABODY, Mass. (CBS/AP) — Hundreds of firefighters and well-wishers have paid their last respects to a Peabody firefighter who died battling a fire last week.
Members of the Peabody fire and police departments marched in a solemn procession Thursday afternoon as other mourners gathered at the Conway, Cahill-Brodeur Funeral Home for the wake for 42-year-old James Rice.
The brother-in-law of fallen Peabody firefighter Jim Rice says the 11-year veteran of the fire department likely would have been overwhelmed by all the attention his death has brought.
"I think he wouldn't have wanted this, but you know I think he's smiling," says Brian Goldsworthy, whose sister Amy is Rice's wife.
"Jim was a quiet man and I think he'd be chuckling at all this. He would appreciate it because he understands it came with the job but he was a quiet guy."
Sister-in-law Courtney Goldsworthy says Rice was a dedicated public servant.
"He didn't, I'm sure, expect it on this level, but he was willing to give it all and he gave it all," she explained. "He'd help anyone in need."
Rice's calling hours began with an emotional surprise when the family of fallen Worcester firefighter Jon Davies, who himself died in the line of duty earlier this month, arrived to pay their respects.
They were accompanied by the Worcester fire chief and other firefighters. No one in Peabody expected them to come.
"It really shocked us," said Peabody Fire Lt. Bob Caruso. "They're still in their grieving mode themselves."
"As soon as we saw them come up, all the Peabody firefighters ran down and were expressing their condolences to them, and I think they really appreciated that. It just made you feel proud," Caruso added.
Amy Rice's brother says she was as surprised as anyone that the Davies family came to pay their respects, and for her "it was a show and a sign that the support will be there for the long term and it's not just going to go away after the funeral is over tomorrow."
Brian Goldsworthy said this Christmas was especially tough on Rice's three young children; two girls, ages twelve and nine, and a seven-year-old boy. He said they wanted to celebrate Christmas Eve at their home, as is family tradition, even without their father. Gifts to and from Jim Rice remained under the family's tree.
"Jim wasn't there this year but we felt him. His kids felt him, so we got through it together," said Goldsworthy.
WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong reports
Rice's exact cause of death remains under investigation but officials believe he may have breathed in toxic fumes.
The fire was ruled accidental.
A funeral is scheduled for Friday.
Two Memorial funds have been set up:
Local 925 c/o James Rice
PO Box 4313
Peabody, MA 01960
James Rice Memorial Fund
32 Main Street
Peabody, MA 01960
WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong contributed to this report.
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