Mourners gather for fallen Philly firefighter's funeral
Firefighters from Philadelphia, the region and along the East Coast are expected to attend Friday’s funeral proceedings
By Julie Shaw
PHILADELPHIA — Under granite skies and a light rain, more than a thousand mourners have gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul to say farewell to Fire Department Lt. Matthew LeTourneau, who died after being trapped under debris and rubble while battling a blaze in North Philadelphia rowhouse blaze last Saturday.
A Fire Department procession with bagpipers escorted LeTourneau’s casket, placed on top of an Engine 45 fire truck, from the Engine 43 station at 21st and Market Streets,where he once served to the cathedral at 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
LeTourneau was most recently assigned to Engine 45 in North Philadelphia. At 8:51 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, he answered his last call: to battle a blaze that engulfed a rowhouse at 2240 N. Colorado St.
From 9 to 11 a.m. Friday, mourners will pay their respects at the second of two viewings for LeTourneau. Mayor Kenney, Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and Luke LeTourneau, one of LeTourneau’s brothers, are expected to speak to reporters outside the cathedral before an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass.
The Rev. Dennis Gill, rector of the cathedral, will be the main celebrant during the Mass, which will be livestreamed. Luke LeTourneau is also scheduled to speak to those gathered inside the cathedral.
Afterward, LeTourneau, an 11-year veteran of the Fire Department, will be buried at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township, Delaware County.
Firefighters from Philadelphia, the region and along the East Coast are expected to attend Friday’s funeral proceedings, as they did Thursday evening’s viewing.
Last Saturday, as temperatures were below freezing, firefighters were called to the rowhouse on Colorado Street, near 17th Street and Susquehanna Avenue, to battle a blaze that engulfed the two-story house in orange flames and black smoke. Firefighters found the body of the man who lived there, Delgera Lane, 61, inside by the door.
After the second floor of the home collapsed, LeTourneau became trapped inside underneath the rubble. It took firefighters and paramedics 30 minutes to get him out. Despite efforts to rescue him, he was pronounced dead at 11:07 that morning at Temple University Hospital. The cause of the two-alarm fire remains under investigation.
Ed Marks, president of Local 22 of the International Association of Firefighters, the union representing firefighters and paramedics in Philadelphia, has said that last Saturday was LeTourneau’s last day at Engine 45, on 26th Street near York. As part of a regular rotation, LeTourneau was to be transferred to Engine 44 in Mantua on his next working day, Marks said.
“I knew Matt well,” Marks said during a phone interview Wednesday. He last saw LeTourneau at the Philadelphia Flyers hockey game at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia on Jan. 4, two nights before the fire. “I sat next to him for 10 minutes,” before LeTourneau returned to his assigned seat in a different section, Marks said.
LeTourneau was an “avid” and “excellent” golfer, Marks said, recalling that they talked about the upcoming golf season with the Philadelphia Firefighters Golf Association, an informal group of active and retired Philadelphia firefighters who loved the sport, and also spoke about his upcoming transfer to his next engine company.
LeTourneau, since age 4, dreamed of becoming a firefighter like his grandfather and great-grandfather, according to a biography of him provided to the O’Leary Funeral Home in Springfield, Delaware County. He grew up in Springfield and was living there before his death. At age 16, he began volunteering with the Springfield Fire Company, where he was considered a lifetime member.
LeTourneau, a 1993 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School, received his associate’s degree in fire science from Delaware County Community College in 1995. He joined the Philadelphia Fire Department in 2007 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2015. Before Engine 45, he had also served with Engine 43 in Center City, Engine 57 in West Philadelphia, and Ladder 77 – “the Pope’s detail” during the World Meeting of Families in 2015. He also taught fire safety as an instructor in Delaware County and other communities.
He loved and cared for animals in need, including those injured in fires, other disasters or those suffering medical issues, according to the biography.
According to an obituary from the funeral home, LeTourneau is survived by his mother, Janice (Thomas) LeTourneau, his sister Michelle Ciano, and brothers Mark and Luke LeTourneau. He was predeceased in death by his father Daniel and brothers Michael and Thomas. He is also survived by nieces, nephews and other relatives.
Alan Vogenberg, of Langhorne, Bucks County, in a phone interview Wednesday, recalled how his father, Frank R. Vogenberg Jr., who was also with Engine 45, died at age 49 while battling a similar North Philadelphia rowhouse blaze in 1949. “These are the kinds of fires firemen are always apprehensive of, because you have to go inside to tackle the fire” at a rowhouse on a small block, the son said.
Marks, the union president, who has been trained in peer-support counseling, said that any firefighter who is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, or just needs someone to just talk to, should contact the union or the department’s Employee Assistance Program.
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