LOWELL -- The flag at the High Street fire station stood at half-staff yesterday morning, somber black buntings and a simple wreath of flowers gracing its facade.
Inside, a small quiet band of brothers prepared for a chore they pray every day they never have to do, send a brother firefighter's dress blues to be cleaned for his funeral.
Friday night they lost one of their own, Kelly Page, 38, a five-year veteran of the department.
With the High Street station closed on Friday, Page was working a shift at busy Engine 6 on West Sixth Street in Centralville. He responded to several calls during the day, including downed power lines, medical emergencies, errant fire alarms ringing throughout city buildings, and a basement fire in a vacant West Third Street tenement.
All in a day's work.
After the last of several runs of the night, he told colleagues that he was not feeling very well, but they didn't think much of it.
About 8:15 p.m., Page was discovered lying on the floor of the station's garage. Firefighters attempted to resuscitate him using CPR and a defibrillator. He was transported to Saints Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
The Georgia native and U.S. Navy veteran leaves behind his wife, Katie, a teacher at the Reilly Elementary School and their three daughters, 13, 10 and 5. He spent his free time coaching his daughter's softball team, and loved to brag about his girls.
The family requested its privacy last night.
"He was just a fantastic guy and all of the guys on the job loved him," Fire Chief Edward Pitta said.
He worked part-time at the Powerhouse Gym on Central Street. Several colleagues said yesterday that he was probably the strongest guy on the job.
"He was very meticulous about his conditioning, which makes this even harder to understand," said Deputy Chief Pat McCabe. "He was just a good guy to be around."
McCabe said the guys liked to tease Page about his Southern drawl, and about being a "rebel." But he took the ribbing in stride, with a chuckle and a smile and was the guy every firefighter wanted to see next to him.
"At fires if there was a particularly difficult task to do, like pulling a ceiling or knocking down a door Kelly was your guy," McCabe said. "He would do anything anyone asked of him."
That attitude earned him Firefighter of the Year honors in 2003 for heroism displayed during a house fire on Lilley Avenue on Oct. 27, 2002. A candle left burning late into the night in a first-floor apartment set off a blaze that killed two of the nine people living at 39 Lilley Ave.
Page and three other firefighters fought through the inferno and blanket of thick smoke to find the two people remaining inside. They stayed in the building longer than usual, refusing the evacuate until they had located the trapped residents.
The pair were recovered, unconscious. One died at the scene and the other was flown to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where she died later that day.
Lt. Jason Strunk said Page is the 23rd Lowell firefighter to die in the line of duty. The last Lowell firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty was John Barry Gannon of Engine 10 on Aug. 7, 1986.
"It is a line-of-duty death. There are many kinds of stress on this job that take its toll," Pitta said.
City Manager Bernie Lynch echoed that sentiment last night.
"These guys obviously have very stressful jobs that they're doing and they risk their own safety," said City Manager Bernie Lynch. "This was a young guy with a young family, and it's a very sad situation for the city to lose him."
Republished with permission from The Lowell Sun.
Visitation for Firefighter Page will be held Thursday, Sept. 20 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Fay McCabe Funeral Home, 105 Moore Street, Lowell, Mass.
Funeral services will be held Friday, Sept. 21 at 11 a.m. at the Immaculate Conception Church on East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Mass.