Early on a Monday evening in 1954, two days after Christmas, Joseph Hoar raced on a Boston Fire Department Ladder 4 truck to a burning house on Gay Street in Roxbury, where Ellen Tibbetts stood on the sidewalk screaming that her 72-year-old husband, James, was inside.
Joined by firefighters John Kenney and Renzo Santangelo from Ladder 12, Mr. Hoar dropped to his hands and knees and felt his way into the building through flames and smoke as intense heat blistered the entryway’s paint and wallpaper. Drawn by the sound of moans, they found Tibbetts in the back of the first-floor apartment on the kitchen floor, most of his clothes burned off.
Crawling backward down the hallway, Mr. Hoar and the other firefighters dragged Tibbetts to safety. Mr. Hoar was worried others might be still inside and returned to the building, only to collapse and be pulled out. The heat melted his rubber coat and left him with first-degree burns on his wrist and second-degree burns on his knees.
“We got burned just touching the floor,” Kenney told the Globe that day. “It was red hot in there. I had a mask, but Joe and Renzo didn’t.”
Mr. Hoar, who was awarded a Patrick J. Kennedy Medal of Honor for that rescue, died Tuesday in the Marina Bay Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Quincy of complications from a heart attack. He was 92 and had lived in Dorchester.
His wife, Agnes, died March 22, and at the end of her wake three days later, Mr. Hoar “crumpled up and got really sad as he was saying goodbye to her,” said their son Jim of Hanover. A short time later, Mr. Hoar had a heart attack just after arriving at his Dorchester home.
“I think he was just dying of a broken heart,” his son said.
The Patrick J. Kennedy medal Mr. Hoar received for the 1954 rescue was one of two he was awarded during a 33-year career. He received a second Kennedy medal in 1968 for saving an elderly man who lost consciousness during a fire in a third-floor apartment on Albany Street in Roxbury.
When Mr. Hoar arrived a little after 7:30 a.m., the building’s residents told him someone was upstairs. To reach the man, who was on a bed in a rear bedroom, Mr. Hoar had to get through a room that was ablaze. He pulled him back through the burning room to a hallway, where other firefighters helped bring him outside.
Mr. Hoar also was awarded a Walter Scott Medal for Valor for rescuing a woman on a February evening in 1963. In that instance, he went up a set of front stairs that was filled with smoke to a third-floor apartment, where the woman was nearly unconscious in a rear bedroom. By then flames had engulfed the front stairs, so Mr. Hoar brought her down the building’s back stairs.
“He had a kind of a knack for being in the right places,” his son Jim, the drill master in charge of Boston’s Fire Academy, said of his father’s history of heroism, which dated to before he was a firefighter.
Mr. Hoar might have guessed from the start that he would have a spirited career with the Fire Department. He had just begun working at Ladder 4 when a call came in for a Dudley Street house in Roxbury. It was his address. The next day, a Globe photo showed Mr. Hoar after the fire comforting his mother, Ada, his hand on her shoulder
“I’m looking at the picture now,” Mr. Hoar’s son said during an interview. “A couple of guys were putting a new roof on their house. They had a tar kettle and it takes a while to heat up, so naturally they go across the street to the bar.”
The kettle overheated, igniting the fire. The Globe reported on Aug. 25, 1948, that Mr. Hoar “remained at home for a short time after the blaze to watch for lingering sparks — and to steady jangled nerves.”
The sixth of nine children, Joseph F. Hoar was born in Roxbury, where his father had owned a trucking business.
A competitive swimmer, Mr. Hoar graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School and was loading freight cars in East Cambridge in July 1941 when he saw Alexander Burns, a barge captain, fall from his boat into Lechmere Canal. Jumping into the water, Mr. Hoar swam out to pull him ashore. Firefighters and police officers were unable to revive Burns, who turned out to have suffered a heart attack.
During World War II, Mr. Hoar served as an airplane mechanic on aircraft carriers in the Panama Canal region.
In 1954, he married Agnes McDonough. They lived in Dorchester before moving to Falmouth for many years after he retired in 1981. Illness brought them back to Boston.
They had met at a party “and hit it off pretty good,” their son said.
“She was almost 10 years younger and was going to go into the convent,” he said. “Her sister was in the convent, her brother was a Jesuit, but she was of a questioning mind, so they told her, ‘Why don’t you take a year to think about it?’ Then she met my Dad and that was it.”
In addition to his son Jim, Mr. Hoar leaves two daughters, Marian McGrath of Brockton and Rosemary Connors of Dorchester; another son, Paul of Whitman; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A funeral Mass will be said at 9 a.m. Friday in St. Mark’s Church in Dorchester. Burial will be in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester.
The Boston Fire Department job always “seemed to be a good fit” for Mr. Hoar, who Jim described him as “kind of driven.”
Along with suffering burns and smoke inhalation while rescuing people from fires, Mr. Hoar had his share of broken bones.
“In 1952, he fell off a roof and broke his back,” his son said. “It actually compressed him a little and for the rest of his life he was shorter. They didn’t think he could come back, but he had a really good doctor.”
Injuries were nothing new for Mr. Hoar, who “was always getting dinged up,” his son said. “As a kid growing up, he was always in the hospital for something, but he didn’t squawk about any of that stuff.”
Mr. Hoar, he added, saw work injuries as “part of the deal. He would just push through things. He wasn’t easily daunted.”