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Thread: Warren, Rhode Island Firefighter Collapses At Fire; Later Dies

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    Jan 2002

    Warren, Rhode Island Firefighter Collapses At Fire; Later Dies

    Warren, Rhode Island Firefighter Collapses At Fire; Later Dies

    Associated Press

    WARREN, R.I. (AP) -- Warren firefighters are mourning the loss of one of their own.

    Richard O'Brien died Friday. He was a veteran Warren firefighter and a former Town Council president.

    The Providence Journal reports that O'Brien was responding to a kitchen fire at one of the properties he owns on Water Street. O'Brien opened a few windows to let heavy smoke out of the kitchen, then collapsed.

    Fire Chief Alexander Galinelli said a Warren rescue truck took O'Brien to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

    The 63-year-old was described by friends as a dedicated public servant and family man.

    State police are investigating the incident. The only damage to the building was smoke damage on the third floor.

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    Warren firefighter collapses at fire; later pronounced dead

    Richard O'Brien, 63, a former Town Council president, was responding to a blaze at his own property.

    Journal Staff Writer

    Veteran Warren firefighter and former Town Council president Richard O'Brien died Friday at the scene of a small fire on Water Street.

    O'Brien, 63, went to 67 Water St., a property he owns, just before 10 p.m. to help put out a kitchen fire that started in either a microwave oven or a stove, Warren Fire Chief Alexander Galinelli said yesterday.

    There was a lot of smoke in the apartment and O'Brien opened a few windows to let it out before he went quiet and collapsed, Galinelli said.

    A Warren rescue truck took him to Rhode Island Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

    The chief said the State Fire Marshal's office was called in to investigate.

    O'Brien owned the building and rented out three apartments in it. The only damage to the building was some smoke damage on the third floor, Galinelli said.

    Local officials described O'Brien as a dedicated public servant and family man who adored his children and grandchildren.

    He was a volunteer firefighter with Station 2, also on Water Street, for 40 years, Galinelli said.

    "The fire station was the number one thing," Galinelli said. "His heart and soul was at that station.

    "He was a good person, a friend of mine."

    Town Council President Frank Alfano called O'Brien's death "a tremendous loss."

    O'Brien was an active participant in community events and politics. For four years in the 1970s, he was a member of the Town Council, and served as president for two years.

    More recently, O'Brien could often be found in hot, steamy kitchens, chopping onions and potatoes for chowder. Or baking, frying and smoking turkeys to raise money for the Fire Department.

    Three weeks ago, O'Brien cooked up a clamboil at the wedding of Galinelli's daughter, in Bristol. Despite the sticky heat and gusty winds that day, Galinelli said he fed the 300 guests at the outdoor event with aplomb.

    "He did a hell of job making sure everybody ate," Galinelli said. "There's nobody he wouldn't help."

    Chief Galinelli flew back from a visit to Pittsburgh upon hearing of the death of his old friend, he said, sounding shaken.

    "He would tell it to you like it is, that's what I loved about the man," Galinelli said. "But if he saw you down on the street, he'd pick you up and dust you off."

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    A Mass of Christian Burial for RICHARD O'BRIEN - Warren

    A Mass of Christian Burial for RICHARD O'BRIEN, 63, of Water Street, a Warren volunteer firefighter who died Friday at Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, after collapsing on a fire call, will be celebrated Thursdayat 11 a.m. in St. Mary of the Bay Church, 645 Main St.

    He was the husband of Janet (Walsh) O'Brien. Born in Fall River, a son of the late John P. and Florina (Poissant) O'Brien, he was a lifelong resident of Warren. Mr. O'Brien had been a member of the Warren Fire Department, Mechanics Fire Engine Company 2, for 40 years, having served as a former lieutenant and deputy chief.

    He had also worked in maintenance at Magnetic Seal for 36 years.

    Mr. O'Brien organized soup, turkey and corned-beef-and-cabbage nights, chili cook-offs, '50s nights with car shows, and he even put on a cookie night to send cookies to U.S. troops overseas. He arranged the hand-tub muster for the 200th anniversary of the Warren Fire Department.

    He was a communicant of St. Mary of the Bay Church, where he was the cochairman of the summer festival food court, and of fundraisers, including clamcake-and-chowder dinners and soup nights. He organized church bingos and was a caller. A dedicated bake master, he served thousands of diners.

    He was a former member and president of the Warren Town Coucil. He was a member of the Hysterical Society. He worked as a committee member for the Warren 250th anniversary, the Fire Department's 200th anniversary and the Warren Holiday Festival.

    Mr. O'Brien had played in the former Warren Indian Band and volunteered for Pop Warner football in many capacities for 10 years. He was involved in Boy Scout Troop 50, Pack 49.

    He had served in the Rhode Island National Guard, and was a member of the American Legion.

    Besides his wife, he leaves three daughters, Dawn O'Brien of Bowie, Md., Erin Ivy of Austin, Texas, and Kerri Vining of Brewster, Mass.; a son, Patrick M. O'Brien of Warren; two brothers, his twin, Kenneth O'Brien of Warren, and Norman O'Brien of North Smithfield; a granddaughter; and several nieces and nephews. He was the brother of the late John O'Brien.

    Burial will be in St. Mary of the Bay Cemetery.

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    Warren loses firefighter, friend in the line of duty

    WARREN - Straight-shooter, frank, honest, dedicated, reliable, community-minded and kind. No one this week had the least bit of trouble finding adjectives to describe the late Richard O'Brien, a 40-year veteran of the Warren Fire Department. But of all the descriptions the word, "generous," was, by far, voiced most.

    Joe Bourquin, former member of Mechanics Fire Company, Engine #2, said in the nine years he served at the station with Mr. O'Brien, he was without a car many times. Whenever Mr. Bourquin found himself "wheel-less," Mr. O'Brien was right there, handing over the keys to a vehicle he owned.

    He was magnanimous to a fault, said Mr. Bourquin.

    Warren volunteer firefighter Richard O'Brien, a 40-year veteran of the department, died last Friday after collapsing at a fire on Water Street.

    "He'd give you the shirt off his back, the truck out of his yard."

    Last Friday, shortly after 10 p.m., the 63-year-old family man, former town council president, firefighter, bakemaster and friend to many, gave his life when he responded to a small, smoky stove fire at a three-story Water Street home.

    He was the first Warren firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty in 25 years.

    Within minutes of arriving at the smoke-filled, third floor apartment of the house at 67 Water St., a property, coincidentally, he owned, Mr. O'Brien crumpled into the arms of fellow firefighters who had responded to the fire as well. Within 12 minutes of his collapse, Mr. O'Brien was carried by colleagues to Rescue 1 and rushed to Rhode Island Hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

    Mr. O'Brien's death, attributed to heart failure, stung townspeople over the weekend, many who had been at the receiving end, at one time or another, of his largesse. His was a familiar face, as was his purposeful stride, strong convictions, zest for life and warm heart.

    His death hit the Warren Fire Department especially hard.

    Firefighters mourn

    "He was a gentle giant of a man," said Narragansett Fire Company, Engine #3, Captain Vincent Calenda who was at the scene Friday night.

    He hasn't slept well since.

    "I was face to face with him when he collapsed. His son, Pat, was to his immediate left. We immediately called a Mayday."

    Life-saving procedures were administered at once.

    Although he said he knows there was not much more that he or anyone else could do, he can't stop going over the chain of events in his mind, said Mr. Calenda.

    The call came in at 9:44 p.m., he said. First responders were Engines #1 and #2, the latter housed about a block away from the fire, and the Ladder Truck. But it was only a minute or two before Engine #3 and Special Hazards arrived.

    Mr. Calenda said when he entered the apartment, Mr. O'Brien had already arrived. Also in the apartment were Deputy Fire Chief Norman Blank, a member of Engine #3, Mr. O'Brien's son, Patrick, captain of Engine #2 for the past 10 years and a federal firefighter at the U.S. Navy Base in Groton, Conn., Robert Miner, assistant chief of Engine #2, Joe Costa of Engine #3, and Paul Lopes of Engine #1. Except for himself, Mr. Calenda said the other five men were all EMTs.

    After Mr. O'Brien was stricken, they carried him with some difficulty down the narrow staircase to the second floor landing, and from there through the second floor apartment then down the main staircase to the waiting rescue. He was accompanied to the hospital by Rescue Captain Steve Asselin, Paul Lopes and George Avila, said Mr. Calenda. Janet O'Brien, Mr. O'Brien's wife of 35 years, rode up front.

    About 30 minutes later, firefighters who remained at the scene to investigate the cause of the small blaze and clean up, or who had driven back to their respective stations to await word on Mr. O'Brien's condition, received the devastating news.

    "It seemed like an eternity," said Mr. Calenda. "The mood was very somber, very, very quiet. Everyone knew what had happened."

    Flags at the fire stations throughout town were immediately lowered to half staff. Mr. Blank called a critical stress management team to counsel firefighters, especially those who were at the scene and members of Mr. O'Brien's company, the Mechanics.

    All seemed well

    Absent that night was Warren Fire Chief Al Galinelli who chose last weekend for a rare trip out of state to visit a cousin.

    "My daughter Amy called. She said something wasn't right at a fire they just had. There was a lot of back and forth chatter," said the chief.

    Chief Galinelli called the police/fire dispatcher in town who told him a firefighter was down and that it was Mr. O'Brien. At 11:30 p.m., the deputy chief phoned him with the grim news. Chief Galinelli, who was in Pennsylvania, returned to town early Saturday morning. Later in the day he held a press conference, breaking down on camera as he glanced at the photo of Mr. O'Brien he held in his hand.

    Mr. Calenda said he and several other men, mostly firefighters, had spent Thursday with Mr. O'Brien, putting on a clambake commissioned by a retired military group at the Bristol Yacht Club

    "He was fine. All he kept talking about was the beautiful kitchen. He couldn't get over it, he loved it," Mr. Calenda recalled.

    Mr. O'Brien also appeared hale hours before his death. In fact, just before the fire call came in, he had finished a swim in this backyard pool and was sitting inside his home, said Mr. O'Brien's son. When the call came in, he drove his truck to the Mechanics Station down the street and, when he discovered the engine already had a driver, walked to the fire.

    Ironically, the man who prepared clambakes for many fire companies, organizations and groups was planning to host the annual O'Brien family clambake at his home on Sunday.

    A somber time

    On Monday, the mood at the fire stations around town remained one of sadness and disbelief over the loss of the well-respected fire department veteran. Makeshift memorials had been set up and bay doorways draped in black.

    His heart heavy, Deputy Chief Norman Blank, who had known Mr. O'Brien for well over 20 years, said the town had truly been blessed by the presence of Mr. O'Brien throughout his lifetime.

    "He would help any organization in this town. There isn't an organization he hasn't helped," he said.

    At Engine #2, Mr. Bourquin reflected on his relationship with Mr. O'Brien.

    "When I came here I was 19, I lived in Somerset," he said. "The station was great. The O'Briens, they love everybody, they take care of everybody. They welcomed me to their home. Mr. O'Brien taught me about firefighting he taught me about clambakes. He taught me to be nice, to always say what I mean."

    On Saturday, as the word spread, folks starting dropping by Mechanics Station, he said. Food delivered courtesy of the Tinker's Nest, Bristol Rescue and neighborhood folks filled the station's refrigerators to overflowing. Since then, many people have stopped by to offer their condolences and motorists have slowed down by the station and beeped their horns in tribute.

    One of the people hardest hit by Mr. O'Brien's death was Central Fire Company, Engine #1, Captain John Jannitto who is expected to deliver the eulogy at Mr. O'Briens funeral on Thursday. The two men were lifelong friends.

    Theirs was a shared friendship that transcended the years and, at one time, even politics, he said.

    "Richard, he is a perfect example to me of a true, true friend. This is a tremendous loss. There are people who don't have real friends. They can't understand it," Mr. Jannitto said.

    Salute to a fallen firefighter

    Warren Fire Chief Al Galinelli said he expects most Warren volunteer firefighters and rescue workers

  5. #5
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    O'Brien, Richard

    Age: 63
    Cause of Death: Stress/Overexertion
    Rank: Firefighter
    Nature of Death: Heart Attack
    Classification: Volunteer
    Emergency Duty: Yes

    Incident Date: 09/10/2004
    Duty Type: On-Scene Fire
    Incident Time: 21:45
    Activity Type: Ventilation
    Death Date: 09/10/2004
    Fixed Prop. Use: Residential

    Fire Dept. Info:
    Warren Fire Department
    514 Main Street
    Warren , Rhode Island 02885
    Chief: Alexander Galinelli

    Final Summary: Firefighter O'Brien and the members of his fire department responded to a fire in an apartment building. Firefighters found a fire in the kitchen of a third floor apartment. Firefighter O'Brien provided ventilation in the fire occupancy by opening windows. Firefighter O'Brien collapsed and was transported by fire department rescue unit to the hospital. He was pronounced dead later that night as the result of a heart attack. The fire occurred in a building owned, but not occupied, by Firefighter O'Brien.

    Memorial Fund Info:
    C/o Warren Fire Department, 1 Joyce St., Warren, RI 02885

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