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Pine Township volunteer firefighters set their flags to half staff in memory of fallen brother Brad Holmes. Holmes died Wednesday morning from burns suffered in the line of duty when he tried to save a Grove City woman from a deadly blaze on Friday. His comrades met and remembered him on Wednesday, calling him a dedicated firefighter who loved his job.

“This morning my brave little brother lost his fight against his burns he sustained last Friday trying to rescue a woman from her apartment,” wrote Chris Holmes, chief of Pine Township Engine Co. “Brad is and will always be my HERO.”

The chief’s tribute appeared Wednesday on the department’s Web site after firefighter Brad Holmes, 21, died at 5:15 a.m. in the burn unit of UPMC Mercy Hospital, Pittsburgh.

He was the first Mercer County firefighter to die of injuries directly sustained while fighting a fire, according to Hermitage Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert S. Goeltz.

Levi Hipps said Brad Holmes was the department’s most active member for the last several years.

“This was it. It’s what he lived for,” Hipps said.

Holmes joined the department as a junior member at 17 in May 2004. He went full-time a year later and also served as the department’s president.

As well as his brother, Holmes’ father Joseph Holmes is also a firefighter.

The family is also grieving the loss of Brad Holmes’ grandfather Joseph C. Holmes, who died Friday at age 86. The elder Holmes’ funeral was set for Wednesday.

Hipps called Brad Holmes a quiet guy, until you got to know him –– after that, he could be a prankster who liked to get the last word in. “He was just really good with people, everybody liked him.”

Holmes and one other Pine Township firefighter, Scott King, were on the second floor of a burning home Friday looking for Patricia Andrews-Smith, 40, who had run back into the 132 Garden Way home, according to the news release.

The fire started to get out of control, said East End Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Finley Jr. on the department Web site, and King and Holmes had to be pulled out by a rapid intervention team –– firefighters on standby in full protective gear.

Mrs. Andrews-Smith died in the fire. King was discharged from the hospital later that day, but still has a long way to go as far as recovery, Hipps said.

Brad Holmes was burned over 75 percent of his body, wrote Chris Holmes. He was placed on a ventilator and heavily sedated because of his burns.

The fire was sparked by a hair dryer set on a downstairs living room couch, said state trooper and fire marshal Robert Ryhal on Monday. It was ruled accidental.

The last firefighter killed in the line of duty was Jim Brown, who in the 1970s had a heart attack in the Hempfield Township station after a fire, Goeltz said.

Mercer County Public Information Officer Jeff Greenburg handled the media wave on Wednesday as departments from Butler County filled in for Pine Township’s calls. There were calls to Mercer High School and Springfield Township, Hipps said.

Firefighters gathered in their garage Wednesday to mourn Holmes. There was a great deal of sadness but a strength beneath it, Greenburg said.

“These guys are heroes,” he said.

Asked if it would be hard to go into a burning building after Holmes’ death, Hipps said, “You always have a fear, but you do it because it’s something you’re trained to do and you want to serve the community.”

Firefighters from Mercer County to Pittsburgh expressed their support or visited Brad Holmes in the hospital, his cousin Greg Holmes had said.

Chris Holmes also wrote in thanks to those who had supported him and his family. “I cannot tell you how much this means to myself, my family and my department, there is a loss for words. There are so many brothers and sisters out there that we never knew we had,”

Those who want to donate to help defray the costs of Brad Holmes’ medical expenses can make checks out to the “Brad Holmes Fund” at Northwest Savings Bank, 200 S. Center St., Grove City.

Others have been making donations to the fire department in his name, Hipps said.

Brad Holmes graduated from Grove City High School in 2004 with a solid academic record and was known as “just an all-around nice kid,” said the school’s principal, Joseph Skibinski.

He was enrolled at Slippery Rock University until December and focused his course work on computers. Holmes built the department’s Web site.

He leaves behind his parents, Joseph and Debbie Holmes, his brother, and his fianceé Alisha Graham.



The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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