Montgomery Fire Chief Stephen P. Frye collapsed Tuesday night while battling a blaze with his son and other volunteer firefighters in his small Western Massachusetts town and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, officials said.
Frye, 59, had responded to a two-alarm blaze at 1524 Southampton Road around 11:10 p.m. and collapsed while operating the “initial attack line outside in the rear of the building,” the state Department of Fire Services said.
He was taken to Bay State Noble Hospital in Westfield, where he was later pronounced dead.
“This is a small tight-knit community and the fire department is like a second family to its members,” state Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said in a statement. “I offer heartfelt condolences to the Frye family and the Montgomery and area fire departments on this devastating loss.”
Fire officials said Frye had been the chief of the volunteer department for 13 years and first joined the group in 1993. He leaves his wife and two adult children. His son had responded to the scene along with Frye, according to fire officials.
“Due to the extent of the fire, a second alarm was called, bringing mutual aid from surrounding communities,” the fire services department said in an earlier statement. “Montgomery does not have a hydrant system, and a number of tankers were used to supply water.’’
The residents of the home escaped after smoke alarms went off, according to the release. The house is a total loss, and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The probe is being handled by the Montgomery Fire Department and State Police assigned to the state fire marshal’s office and to the Hampden district attorney. “Preliminary findings indicate this is an accidental fire,” the release said.
Frye’s sudden death devastated Montgomery, a town of fewer than 900 residents about 18 miles west of Springfield, said Michael Morrissey, who is the fire chief of the neighboring town of Russell. Frye enjoyed being a firefighter, and his ebullient personality helped his volunteer department recruit and retain people, Morrissey said.
“He could understand and relate to everyone,” Morrissey said.
Frye, Morrissey said, was involved in the community; he helped raise funds for local baseball teams and assisted in organizing youth soccer teams. An avid outdoorsman, Frye enjoyed boating, hiking, and, in his younger years, playing soccer, Morrissey said. Frye, Morrissey said, was a volunteer chief; he worked for a local electrical workers union as his day job.
Morrissey recalled responding with Frye to wildfires that swept through both of their communities.
“When we would have large-scale wildfires raging for three, four, five days, he always came in and he was always pleasant,” Morrissey said. “He could lead. You felt comfortable working for him, and you trusted him.”
The Montgomery force has 17 firefighters, Morrissey said, and Frye’s death will leave a significant hole in the department.
“He liked helping people,” he said. “He liked the interaction.”
Authorities said Critical Incident Stress Management, or CISM, services were in Montgomery on Wednesday working with the first responders.
The death came after Watertown firefighter Joseph Toscano died in March during a house fire.
Toscano, a 54-year-old married father of five, was fighting a two-alarm house fire when he suffered a medical emergency and collapsed.
Western Massachusetts hadn’t lost a firefighter in a line of duty death since July 2010, when a firefighter was killed in Otis.Danny McDonald and Laura Crimaldi of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.