MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A veteran firefighter collapsed and died on duty while battling a house fire on Thursday.
The fallen firefighter's widow stood before the half-staff flag outside fire headquarters in Mount Vernon a mere hours after the tragedy, reports CBS 2's Lou Young.
Kevin Townes, 54, spent more than a quarter century doing the work he loved. He collapsed before dawn, losing his life even as he prepared to risk it one final time at a house fire.
"He fell. He broke his nose. They did some CPR on him. They tried to revive and they couldn't do it; they just couldn't do it," Firefighter Denato Christiano said.
WCBS 880's Paul Murnane On The Scene
Townes' brother, Gregory, described a man who was larger than life.
"He would come in here and really just light up this room. He really would and I see a lot of people nodding their heads," Gregory told WCBS 880 reporter Paul Murnane.
His collapse was so sudden, he didn't even appear to extend his arms to break his fall.
Neighbors, including Charles Mayers, describe a frantic effort to revive Townes.
"It was just unfortunate. There's no other way I can explain it," he told Murnane.
It seems impossible. Friends pointed to the gym equipment Townes used to stay in shape -- a bear of a man able to press 315 pounds. He was a man in love with the work as well as his heartbroken family.
"Every firehouse we ever passed he had to stop and go in and tell them he was from Mount Vernon, where the real firefighters are from. He had the years in. He could've retired, but he said he wanted to keep doing this as long as he could," wife Patricia Townes said.
The couple has four children. One is grown and away, but the others were at their mother's side trying to comprehend the loss.
Mayor Clinton Young promised the Townes continued help even as their father's organs were harvested for transplant to others.
"Kevin is still on the job as we speak. His service did not stop at 4:06 a.m. He continues to serve mankind," Young said.
Funeral arrangements are pending -- a rare process in a department whose last death in the line of duty occurred on Jan. 18, 1995, when Firefighter Dennis Mullen collapsed while pulling a hose from a pumper – a death eerily similar to way Townes died on Thursday.
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