Full honors planned for Beverly firefighter who died

By Jenna Nierstedt
Globe Correspondent / May 27, 2009
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A Beverly firefighter will be buried with full honors after he died at a local fire station Friday, apparently from a heart attack, fire officials said.

Paul J. Roberts, a 21-year veteran, was discovered on the second floor at the North Beverly station Friday afternoon when he was supposed to respond to a mutual aid call. His company was called to cover the Beverly fire headquarters while firefighters from that station headed to Peabody to help with a three-alarm house fire. Firefighters at the station tried desperately to revive Roberts, who had worked on Engine 5, said Beverly fire Captain Peter O'Connor.

"They put their heart and soul into trying to save Paul," he said.

Fire Chief Richard Pierce, in a statement from the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, called Roberts a "dedicated firefighter and family man. He will be remembered for his quiet, good nature and his unforgettable smile."

"I used to see him outside the fire house picking up his granddaughter outside school," O'Connor said. "He always had a big smile on his face, looking for you to come over and talk to him.

"It really shakes you, especially the guys that work with him," he said. "You live with these people for 48 hours a week, and they become part of your family."

Roberts's wife of 14 years, Nancy Lee Roberts, said her husband got to spend his last day as a Beverly firefighter in a memorable way. About noon on Friday, she said, one student from the North Beverly elementary school was selected by raffle to ride Engine 5 with the firefighters.

"If you could have picked the best moment for my husband to have his last place and time, that was it," she said, adding that residents called him the unofficial mayor of North Beverly.

Calling him her best friend, she said, "My husband was the most compassionate, moral man I have ever met in my life."

Paul Roberts, 54, graduated from Malden Catholic High School. He was a member of the Beverly Fire Department Local 1669, Beverly Relief Association, International Association of Firefighters, and the Vittori Rocci Post, according to the Campbell-Lee, Moody, Russell Funeral Home in Beverly.

Family members said he was an avid fan of Boston sports teams and the Washington Redskins football team, the funeral home said. Roberts, who had two children, loved the outdoors, walking, kayaking, and jet skiing. He also enjoyed working on his home and carpentry.

Roberts's funeral will be held Friday. Members of the Boston Fire Department will attend, said department spokesman Stephen MacDonald. A staging area will be set up for a procession, and the Greater Boston Firefighters Pipes and Drums have been requested.