Veteran fire Capt. Pat Carey was a big-hearted man and an inspiration to every fireman who worked under him, his grieving colleagues said yesterday.

"He was a well-respected man and a well-respected fireman," said Kevin McCarthy, who worked with Carey at the old City of York firehall.

"When I was new to the job he would always flash me a smile of encouragement and that meant a lot to me. He was always there to set me in the right direction."

Carey, 51, suffered an apparent heart attack as he fought a fire in a apartment complex at Dundas St. and Stewart Ave., near Scarlett Rd., late Monday and was declared dead at St. Joseph's hospital.

He was one week away from having 29 years on the job and two months from retirement.

Toronto city council honoured the fallen firefighter yesterday with a moment of silence.

Carey, a Trenton resident who played on the fire department's baseball team and coached hockey, left behind his wife and three kids.

Fire Capt. Peter White said Carey was an honourable man who would go out of his way to help a friend.

"He was a great firefighter," he said from Fire Station No. 3 . "He had a lot of friends here."

Toronto Professional Fire Fighters' Association president Jim Lee said Carey was in the burning 10th-floor apartment dousing the flames when he complained of chest pain.

"His own men helped him outside," Lee said. "It was traumatic for them. They have been working with the (crisis counsellors) since it happened."

Lee said firefighters are a tight bunch who spend so much time together that they're more like family than co-workers. Carey will be given a full regimental funeral which Lee expects firefighters from across the country to attend.