Fallen Worcester firefighter remembered 2 years after making the ultimate sacrifice
Lt. Jason Menard 'left us lessons on being a good person, how to be selfless, how to be kind,' said Fire Lt. Michael Papagni
Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER, Mass. — It's been two years since city Fire Lt. Jason Menard tragically lost his life in the line of duty but for loved ones and his comrades, he's always around, in spirit.
After a sudden torrent, the clouds parted and the rain eased up as family, loved ones, firefighters and city officials gathered Saturday evening for a tribute to the late firefighter, who was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for losing his life while saving the lives of others.
"Jay left a void in his family that cannot be expressed in words, but that's not all he left. He left us lessons on being a good person, how to be selfless, how to be kind. He left us memories that make us smile and sometimes laugh out loud. His self, remains with us. Just look at the weather today, it's no accident," said Fire Lt. Michael Papagni, president of the firefighters' union Local 1009, eliciting a welcome laugh from the grieving crowd.
The ceremony began near the College of the Holy Cross with a procession of Menard's comrades, members of the Worcester Fire Department. They marched to Menard's second home — the McKeon Road Fire Station.
A recording of the last call to duty heard by Menard played as the crowd bowed their head.
On Nov. 13, 2019, Menard's crew — Ladder 5, Group 2 — faced a deadly fire at a three-family house at 7 Stockholm St. Prioritizing his peers over himself, Menard helped a firefighter to a stairwell and assisted Firefighter Christopher Pace out of a window, toward safety.
In a heartbreaking turn of events, Menard himself was trapped as the blaze engulfed the third floor, cutting off his escape routes.
The veteran firefighter, 39 at the time of his untimely death, was husband to Tina and father to Josh, Haley and Morgan.
"Lt. Jason Menard was the definition of selflessness and bravery, behaviors that defined him as a firefighter but also as a husband and a father," said Acting Chief Martin Dyer.
As speakers remembered Menard through their words, his loved ones huddled closer together in the crowd — a comforting arm on someone's back, a child held tightly, cherishingly, tears flowing freely.
The cold night two years ago took away one of Worcester's greatest, one whose life and death embodied service to others, said Mayor Joseph M. Petty.
"I know for people here today it's still difficult to believe that he's gone. But what I remember most about this tragedy is the sense of community, the entire city wrapping its arms around the Menard family. I remember the outpouring of generosity from all parts of the community, which comes from the high esteem with which our city holds out fire department. It's an honor to be here today to remember a true hero, a son of Worcester," Petty said.
An intimate ceremony, limited to loved ones and eminent officials due to the pandemic, was held last year to honor Menard on the one-year-anniversary of his death.
On the day of his funeral, thousands of fellow firefighters from across the state, nation and the Canadian border came down to Worcester to pay their respects. Many visited his memorial to lay flowers and say their final goodbyes.
At-large City Councilor and Chair of Public Safety Kathleen M. Toomey vowed Saturday to remember Menard, "a true leader and hero" in every improvement made for the Fire Department.
The city has lost nine firefighters in the past two decades to line-of-duty deaths. The loss of Menard prompted a closer look into the city's Fire Department and the city hired Emergency Services Consulting International to conduct a review of firefighter safety.
The ESCI report presented to the City Council in September detailed many crucial changes to advance the local fire department.
Menard was remembered with a call of the bell, rung thrice to signal the end of his final shift, a 21-gun salute and a wreath.
After a rendition of "Amazing Grace," the sounds of bagpipes and drums faded and the crowd stood up. Some wiped their tears silently, some embraced loved ones, and some buttoned up their jacket, heading out into the rainy weather.