WORCESTER (CBS) – Worcester firefighter Lt. Jason Menard was killed in the line of duty in a house fire early Wednesday morning, just hours before he was about to go on a Disney vacation with his family.
Flames broke out in a home on Stockholm Street around 1 a.m. and quickly spread, shooting out the windows. Firefighters got a report that a woman and her baby were trapped on the third floor. As they went up there, they became trapped by heavy fire.
"Lt. Menard heroically and selflessly saved his crew, helping a probationary firefighter to the stairs and then returning to rescue another trapped firefighter, assisting him out the window. Fire conditions overtook the third floor at this time and Lt. Menard was unable to escape," Worcester Fire Chief Michael Lavoie told reporters at a news conference.
Lavoie said the high winds and cold weather made it more difficult to reach Menard. When they did, he and three other firefighters were rushed to the hospital. Menard died.
"Two were released from the hospital. We have one firefighter still in the hospital, he has serious injuries, second and third degree burns," Lavoie said later in the day. "He will be alright. He is stable so thank God for that."
A woman who was in the house was also taken to the hospital with serious injuries. No one else in the home was hurt, investigators said.
Menard leaves behind a wife, three children and his parents. He was 39 years old.
"They had planned this morning to be on a trip to Disney. They are instead planning a hero's sendoff," Local 1009 President Michael Papagni told reporters. "We'll support his family and his children for the rest of their lives."
Menard had been a member of the Worcester Fire Department since 2010.
"He was a passionate fire officer who absolutely loved being a firefighter. He took his job very seriously, performed it admirably and his dedication to the residents of Worcester was unwavering," Lavoie said.
"This is a tragic day for the Worcester Fire Department and the City of Worcester," said Mayor Joseph Petty. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lieutenant Menard's family."
Lt. Menard's body was later brought to the medical examiner's office in Boston with a police procession down the Massachusetts Turnpike. A similar procession brought him back to Worcester in the afternoon.
WBZ-TV's Mike LaCrosse reports
There's no word yet on how or where the fire started, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Worcester police each had officers at the home.
Firefighters had to battle historic cold as temperatrures dropped to 13 degrees, a record low for the date. The Red Cross said up to 15 people were displaced. Amid the chaos, neighbors witnessed what they called the utmost professionalism among the firefighters.
"It's their job, remember you're running away from the fire and they're running into it," neighbor Joh Welch told WBZ-TV.
Lt. Menard's death is the 10th time a Worcester firefighter has died in the line of duty since 1999.
It comes just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the tragic Worcester Cold Storage fire. On December 3, 1999 six Worcester firefighters - Lt. Thomas Spencer, Lt. Timothy Jackson Sr., Lt. James Lyons III, and firefighters Jeremiah Lucey, Paul Brotherton and Joseph McGuirk - died after becoming trapped in that warehouse. The fire was later determined to have been started by two homeless people.
Shortly after Lt. Menard's death, firefighters were called to another fire at a business a few miles away.
"The Worcester Fire Department just wants to protect lives and property. Our men and women of our fire department are the best. They get up and go to work. They do their job. This department has resiliency over the years," Lavoie said. "It wasn't easy. It's definitely taking its toll and I don't know how much more we can take."
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