Mass. firefighter responds to son's deadly crash

"You answer the bell and when you get there, you find it's your own flesh and blood. Believe me, there's nothing worse," one firefighter said

Boston Herald

BRIDGEWATER, Mass. — On November 14, 1996, the day Paul Chuilli Jr. was born, his proud father began his career as a firefighter in Bridgewater.

Exactly 18 years and 26 days later on Wednesday morning, Paul Chuilli Sr. was part of a three-man crew on Engine 1 that rushed to a single-car crash on a winding West Bridgewater road.

There, trapped inside the crumpled remains of a Chevrolet twisted up against a tree at the edge of a manicured lawn, Bridgewater firefighter Paul Chuilli came upon the body of his youngest son.

“It’s every firefighter’s worst nightmare,” said Joe Cairns. “You answer the bell and when you get there, you find it’s your own flesh and blood. Believe me, there’s nothing worse.”

Joe Cairns was not speaking merely as a captain of the Bridgewater Fire Department, but as the uncle of the boy who starred on the football and basketball teams at West Bridgewater High School, a thoughtful kid who also took the time to make just about everyone his friend.

“They needed the Jaws of Life to get Paul out of that car,” Joe Cairns said, suppressing his own tears, “and his Dad was there, doing what good … no, great firefighters do. Paul did his job in the most horrible of circumstances. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than answering a call like that, and finding it’s your son.”

Fastened to the base of that tree on Aldrich Road where Paul Chuilli Jr. died just before noon on Wednesday were epitaphs from his older twin brothers, Evan and Dylan, his sister, Kate, and mother, Katelyn, as well as members of the football and basketball squads.

“Junior, I can’t come up with words for the pain and the hole in my heart. I don’t know how each day will work out with you not here. Mom.”

“I’ll never understand why you left my life so soon,” his brother Evan wrote, “but my little brother will always stay in my heart. Everyday that goes by you’ll be in my mind. I love you so much. Evan.”

Mark Bodwell, principal of West Bridgewater High, recalled that familiar voice and the smile that radiated across the hall, shortly before Paul Chuilli Jr. died on Wednesday.

“Paul called out to me, ‘Hey, Mr. Bodwell, how’s it goin’?’ I smiled back. We had a half day and Paul was going to be coming back to school for basketball practice.”

The young principal paused for a moment, as if being ambushed by the vagaries of life. A boy brimming with life, an anchor of the student body, was no more.

Suddenly, the future for Bodwell was all about today’s tribute on the Bridgewater/Raynham football field, where students will send balloons into the sky.

“At a time like this,” Mark Bodwell said, “all we can do is keep the doors open and allow our kids to be with their friends and grieve together. The counselors are here, but our students tend to lean on each other for support. They’re wrestling with something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Their friend is gone.”

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