If Warren Payne had a fatal flaw, it was his inability to say no.
The 53-year-old firefighter wasn't scheduled to work Wednesday night. But when a fellow worker at Ladder 25 in West Roxbury had to take an emergency medical service class, Payne, as usual, agreed to fill in.
"If I called him, he never said no," Captain Emmet Nichols said yesterday, a day after Payne and firefighter Paul Cahill were killed responding to a blaze at a West Roxbury restaurant.
Payne lived in Newton and had been a Boston firefighter for 19 years. His plan was to save enough money to retire in two years and possibly move south, where he had family, Nichols said.
He would have been eligible to retire with a 50 percent pension in 2009.
But until his boys, ages 14 and 16, were old enough to move away to college, Payne was staying put.
"Everything he did here was for his kids," Mark Selden, a co-worker, said. "Not a shift went by that he didn't talk about them."
The divorced dad was looking forward to seeing his kids this weekend, Nichols said.
But by 2 a.m. yesterday when the fatal blaze was out and Nichols finally made it back to the firehouse, Payne's former wife, Cheryl, was there - wondering how she was going to explain to the boys that their father wouldn't be picking them up this weekend.
Yesterday, Payne's co-workers remembered him for his comforting way with people during emergencies, as well as his directness.
"He said what he meant," Selden said, "And he meant what he said."
Payne grew up in Boston and attended the Taft School in Brighton, where he was known as the best-dressed kid, firefighter Joe Odom said.
"He was sharp," Odom said.
As he spoke, passersby stopped to lay flowers, cards, toy fire engines and candles outside the firehouse. On a bench out front, a handwritten sign read: "We will never forget your bravery."
A couple carried their 2-year-old daughter over so she could lay her teddy bear at the foot of the firehouse's driveway.
"Even though we don't know the people who died, we want to say 'thank you' and say to their families, 'you have our prayers,'" said Luis Camey, 32, of Roslindale.
By early yesterday evening, the gifts reached down to the end of the firehouse driveway.
"This is going to rock this community," said Ann McSherry, 51, of Roslindale. "It's the ultimate sacrifice to lay down one's life for other people. It just touches you to the bone."
Go to The Boston Herald for more information on the fire deaths.Republished with permission from the Boston Herald