Thomas Edward Rice Sr., a Baltimore County firefighter and volunteer firefighter, died Wednesday of pancreatic cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Perry Hall resident was 44.
Known as "TR," Mr. Rice was born in Baltimore, the son of a Baltimore firefighter, and raised in Loch Raven Village.
After graduating from Loch Raven High School in 1983, he attended what was then Catonsville Community College for several years.
Mr. Rice waited five years until he was finally selected to fill one of the 30 slots - 1,000 had applied - at the county fire academy in 1988.
"It was very competitive. But I had wanted to be a fireman since I was in diapers," he told the Towson Times in an interview last year.
"That's true. He lived and breathed the fire service," Battalion Chief Steven G. Lancaster said yesterday. "He began hanging around the firehouse when he was 9, and we have pictures of Tommy when he was a kid practicing the stop, drop and roll movement, as well as climbing ladders he had placed against the side of his house."
Mr. Rice, who was a fire apparatus driver and operator, began his career at the Essex station in 1988.
He was subsequently assigned to Fullerton, Hillendale and Station No. 1 in Towson, where he worked for 11 years. In 2006, he transferred to Engine 10 in Parkville before recently returning to Towson.
"TR exemplified the fire service, and he was a good teammate. He cared about others and always wanted to help," said Lt. L. Allen Roody, a county firefighter assigned to Engine Co. 2 in Pikesville and a longtime friend. "He also taught others how to be firefighters at the Maryland Fire Rescue Institute in College Park."
Chief Lancaster recalled that Mr. Rice "loved driving firetrucks, especially the hook-and-ladder assigned to Station 1."
"TR was so good at it that he instructed others how to drive trucks," Chief Lancaster said. "He was a fun-loving guy who had a great personality and was a great presence. He'd take the shirt off his back for you. Everyone loved him."
Something of a free spirit, Mr. Rice loved dressing up as Santa Claus and would oftentimes wear a Santa hat throughout his shift.
A big man who appreciated good food, Mr. Rice had earned the reputation of being a first-rate firehouse cook.
"He loved cooking at home, and when you were on his shift, you knew you were going to get a good meal," Chief Lancaster said. "He'd come in early just to get dinner started."
In addition to his work as a county firefighter, Mr. Rice had been a 28-year member and was a former captain of the Providence Volunteer Fire Company.
"He was a fireman's fireman. He was a great mentor and instructor, and for TR, it was all about the brotherhood," said Lt. Chris Davis of the volunteer fire company.
After pancreatic cancer was diagnosed in 2007, his fellow firefighters rallied around him.
They invited him and his family to dinner or dropped off meals at his Perry Hall home. The Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association staged a fundraiser for him at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.
Fellow firefighters said it was the sort of thing he'd be doing for someone else in a similar situation.
"I have my moments of frustration with being young and asking why this is happening to me," Mr. Rice said in the Towson Times interview. "But the good part is all the support I've received and knowing the brotherhood is there, that your family will never be forgotten. They will always be taken care of."
When Mr. Rice was transferred to Gilchrist, Chief Lancaster warned hospice workers that firefighters would be arriving at all hours of the day and night to spend time supporting their friend and co-worker.
"He said he was worried about his family and fellow firefighters, and we told him not to worry," Chief Lancaster said. "We were in the hallway when he took his last breath and passed away. He was one of the most courageous men I've ever known."
Capt. William E. Carter of the Towson fire station worked side by side with Mr. Rice for more than a decade, and they had been friends for 20 years.
"Tommy's death is such a terrible loss. He was a great family man and had a loving personality. He was fun to work with and did his job well," Captain Carter said.
Mr. Rice's wife of 22 years, the former Karen M. Fogerty, said, "He loved firefighting. That was his entire life."
Mr. Rice was a communicant of Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Baynesville.
A funeral Mass with full department honors will be offered for Mr. Rice at 10 a.m. today at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St.
He will be interred in the Fallen Heroes section of Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.
Also surviving are a son, Thomas Edward Rice Jr., 15; a daughter, Rebecca K. "Becky" Rice, 18; and a brother, Gary W. Rice of Baltimore.