Restaurant Blaze Kills Two Boston Firefighters

The firefighters were trapped in dust and smoke when an enormous rooftop air condition unit fell into a burning restaurant, Aug. 30.


Firehouse.com Editor's Note: WCVB-TV is reporting that the conditions of the firefighters initially listed as critical have been upgraded. One has since been released while the other remains hospitalized.

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BOSTON-- Two Boston firefighters were killed and two others critically injured after being trapped in a disorienting cloud of dust and smoke when an enormous rooftop air condition unit fell into a burning restaurant in West Roxbury last night.

Two minutes after the fire broke out in the Tai Po Chinese restaurant on Centre Street at 9:04 p.m, firefighters raced a hose into the building and began dousing flames only to be buried when the three-ton air conditioning unit fell in on them from the roof, said BFD Chief of Department Kevin Maccurtain.

Killed were Paul Cahill, 55, of Scituate, and Warren Payne, 53, of Canton, who served on Engine 30, Ladder 25, the first unit to respond to the Wednesday evening fire, said Fire Department spokesman Scott Salman.

Eight other firefighters had less serious injuries, and an EMS paramedic was being evaluated for chest pains, he said.

This morning, at the Engine 30, Ladder 25 fire station on Centre Street, just blocks away from the fire scene, there was a growing memorial of flowers and cards.

Mark Scanlan, 45, placed and American flag next to a half-dozen boquets of flowers at the station.

Scanlan, who lives in Roslindale, said he know two men who work at the station.

"It's a tragedy, it's terrible," he said.

Karen Dolan brought a green candle to the station and lit it "for the Holy Spirit."

"It's scary that it hits home," said Dolan, whose husband is a Boston firefighter working out of a different station. "It just happens so fast. You feel bad for the firefighters. It can happen to anyone."

At the fire scene this morning, a handful of spectators watched as two large cranes removed objects from the burnt out restaurant building as cleanup continued. Investigators will try to determine exactly what led to the disaster.

"They ran lines into the building. They became trapped, disoriented and couldn't find their way out," MacCurtain said.

Under heavy smoke, and ferocious fire and heat, they had to crawl on the ground to find their way out.

As mayday signals were sent by the trapped firefighters, a specially trained BFD Rapid Intervention Team rushed into the building. The team forced its way into the chaos, with the engine company holding back the flames, as they tried to "find, locate and remove the trapped firefighters," Maccurtain said.

"Within minutes the main mission changed from extinguishing the fire to rescuing the firefighters," Maccurtain said.

One firefighter staggered out of the blaze, which quickly escalated to a four-alarm fire that ripped through a block of businesses and fell to his knees, a witness said.

"I saw a fireman stumble out the building and he stumbled down to one knee," said Bobby Sharpe, 16, of West Roxbury. "I saw him go by on a stretcher, his face was all burned."

Off-duty firefighter Peter Starkey was shopping with his wife and children at a CVS when the flames broke out. He rushed down the street in his flipflops and hollered at his wife to pull out his bunker gear from their car. When she arrived at the scene Starkey was breaking the windows in the restaurant and pulled one of the now-deceased jakes from the building.

Late last night, a somber-looking Mayor Thomas M. Menino visited the families of the hero firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice, and comforted the wounded at both hospitals.

"Tonight is a very sad night for the city of Boston," Mayor Thomas Menino said. "Two of our bravest have lost their lives in a fire in West Roxbury. Our prayers and offers of help are extended to the families of those two firefighters and the other firefighters who were injured in the line of duty. This is a dangerous job, and these firefighters answered the call."

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