Brian Reed knew the dangers of being a firefighter. The excitement was partly what lured him to the job.

But it wasn't a fire that took his life Tuesday. Death didn't come during a dramatic battle with flames, the way firefighters fear, and sometimes romanticize.

Reed died after he fell while changing a light bulb at his West Manatee fire station.

It was a slow morning for the firefighters who started their shift at 7 a.m. No fires. Not even a false alarm.

So, as is their habit, the men on duty at Station 2, on Cortez Road, were doing their chores. As usual, Reed, a certified electrician, took the lead on anything remotely electrical.

The 39-year-old was standing on a ladder changing a fluorescent light just before 10 a.m. when something happened. Stray volts of electricity may have shocked him, investigators say, citing burn marks on his hands.

He fell 12 feet off the ladder and cracked his skull on the concrete floor of the fire truck bay.

He was rushed to Blake Medical Center in west Bradenton with a severe head injury and died shortly afterward from a heart attack.

"It's not the way we are supposed to go," West Manatee Capt. Larry Revell said.

It's unclear if Reed went into cardiac arrest from an electrical current or because of the head injury. Brian Mikloay, the firefighter steadying Reed's aluminum ladder, did not feel any current, said county Emergency Medical Services spokesman Larry Leinhauser.

Mikloay tried to break Reed's fall, but Reed landed on his head, Leinhauser said.

Leinhauser called the skull injury "severe" and said Reed lost a lot of blood. Fire officials and sheriff's detectives are investigating.

Though he didn't die saving someone from a burning home, that was the excitement he craved, even as a small child.

"By the time he was walking, he was climbing ladders," said his brother Jack. "He always liked being in the thick of things. He wasn't the type to sit back and do desk work.

"He was where the action was."

After serving eight years in the Marine Corps, Reed came back to Manatee County and worked as an electrician. He started as a volunteer firefighter in 1989 with the Anna Maria Fire District, which later merged with West Manatee. He became a full-time firefighter/emergency medical technician in 1995.

"He was a go-to guy, whether it was changing light bulbs or using the Jaws of Life," Jack Reed said. "He was always there for people. You could count on him."

The West Manatee firefighters are a close-knit group who consider themselves part of a family. The fire station is where Reed and his wife, Pamela, exchanged their wedding vows.

Reed had lived in Manatee County since he was 3 years old, after his family moved from Jamestown, N.Y.

He, his wife and two daughters, Donna and Elizabeth, lived on the same east Bradenton street as two of his three brothers and a sister.

"He was a real good father and husband. He was very much a family man," Revell said. "He was taking care of his mother, who has cancer. His father passed away a year ago."

Jack Reed, who works at Blake Medical Center, made a promise to his brother as he lay dying -- to take care of his family and "see him again" in heaven.