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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Robert C. O'Reilly, 77


Robert C. O'Reilly considered firefighting the last of the romantic jobs, he once told his son while serving as chief of the Watertown Fire Department, because every time a firefighter leaves the station he's helping someone, no matter the person's gender, ethnicity, or politics.

"He liked that there were no value judgments in firefighting," said Edward J., a former firefighter who worked in his father's department. "You don't know or care who you're helping -- it's just another human being. There's no other job like that."

A third-generation firefighter who worked his way up the ranks of the fire department he had admired as a boy, Mr. O'Reilly was known to rush into burning buildings alongside his men -- sometimes with a lit cigarette in his mouth, his son said -- to check that they were safe.

In his management of the department, he was likened to a conductor. "He was very creative with firefighting," his son said. "You'd think you were doing OK and then he'd bring it to another level. When he showed up, we went from a high school production to a Broadway show."

Mr. O'Reilly died suddenly Sunday at his winter home in Naples, Fla. of what his family believes was a heart attack, his son told the Globe in an obituary today. He was 77.

-- Stephanie Peters

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