By Toni Caushi
BU News Service
The sharp cry of bagpipes led another firefighter funeral march on Monday through the City of Worcester. Nearly a year after laying rest to firefighter Christopher Roy, St. John’s Catholic Church on Temple Street held another mass, this time to honor Lt. Jason Menard, 39, of the McKeon Road Fire Station.
Before succumbing to injuries after a four-alarm fire at 7 Stockholm St. Wednesday, Menard aided two firefighters to safety. He is survived by his wife, Tina, and their three children.
“Jason had a passion for his job and was dedicated to the oath he took to protect the Worcester community without question,” the city said in a statement. “His heroic actions are proof of that dedication and his selfless commitment to not only his community but his fellow firefighters.”
During the Monday mass held for Menard, Danny Pace, brother of one of the two firefighters whose life Menard saved, expressed his condolences.
“My brother was fighting doctors and nurses wanting to be here today,” he said of Christopher Pace’s gratitude. “[Menard] will forever be Chris’ hero, my family’s hero, your family’s hero, all of our community’s hero.”
Menard pushed Pace out of the window of a third-floor apartment where he was trapped. According to family, Pace is currently recovering in the UMass Memorial Medical Center ICU in Worcester after suffering from 14 broken ribs, a broken arm, second and third-degree burns and a collapsed lung.
As is tradition for line-of-duty deaths, the casket carrying Menard’s body was placed on top of his older truck at a previous station he served at. In a sign of respect to his bravery, firefighters from different parts of the country marched alongside Engine 4 at Monday’s funeral procession.
Bedford fire Lt. Steve Bateman had come with his wife from New Hampshire to attend Menard’s funeral and walk in the march across the blockaded Washington Square.
“I’m heartbroken,” he said Monday, “We’ve lost nine members in 20 years.”
During his 19 years as a firefighter, Bateman had been in attendance for Roy’s funeral, but also for Jon Davies’ 2011 funeral and the 1999 funeral of the six firefighters who perished in the Worcester Cold Storage fire.
All four tragedies, including Wednesday’s, have happened in a time of year when temperatures have dropped quickly; the Worcester Six on Dec. 3, Davies on Dec. 8, Roy on Dec. 9 and Menard on Nov. 13.
“Carelessness with space heaters can’t be ruled out,” Bateman speculated when asked for an explanation. “It was very cold that night; can’t say for sure.”
According to a January 2018 report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), space heaters caused 43% of total U.S. home heating fires, and 85% of deaths caused by such fires.
The Worcester Fire Department had not yet determined a cause as of Tuesday morning, as the investigation is ongoing.
“After these incidents, there’s always a huge investigation for failures,” Bateman mentioned. “At my department, I always review the outcome to find a way for how to avoid [them].”
Misunderstandings have also been a seemingly repetitive cause of fatalities. In three of the major Worcester cases, the firefighters have gone back in the buildings after reports of trapped residents or squatters.
The Worcester Six went back in to look for a homeless couple that had already left before the fire was even reported, and most recently Menard, who went back into the three-story home searching for a mother and her baby who had made it out before firefighters entered the building.
“When you’re looking for someone in a fire, your human instincts kick in and you want to find the person who is there at any cost,” Bateman said. “At the end of the day, it remains a dangerous job and the risk will always be there.”
The NFPA reports annual firefighter death totals nationally in the 60s since 2011, except for 2013, when 19 firefighters perished in the Arizona Yarnell Hill Fire, bringing the year’s total to 98. So far, the U.S. Fire Administration reports 51 firefighters have died in service in 2019.
At Menard’s funeral, Rep. Jim McGovern, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Sen. Ed Markey, and Gov. Charlie Baker came to show their support for the department and the Menard family. They left speaking of Menard up to those who knew him best.
The Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM) set up Menard’s Children Fund the day after Menard’s death, in support of his three children’s upbringing.
“It’s a matter of brotherhood, my friend,” said 35-year veteran Meriden, Conn. firefighter James Brown. “I’ve been here in 1999, 2011 and 2018. It’s all out of respect.”