Lieutenant Jason Menard from the Worcester Fire Department was given a Medal of Honor posthumously at the 31st annual Firefighter of the Year awards on Monday.
Menard, 39, was credited with saving the life of one of his fellow firefighters before dying in a house fire in Worcester on Nov. 13, 2019. Menard was one of 76 honorees who were recognized at the virtual award ceremony that was broadcast on the state Department of Fire Services Facebook page.
“Jason Menard is a classic example of the history, the talent, and the commitment that Worcester firefighters make to this community,” Governor Charlie Baker said during the ceremony.
Other award recipients included Hanson Fire Chief Jerome A. Thompson Jr., Lieutenant Keith Wilson, and firefighters Timothy Royer, Gary Somers, and Thomas White, who were awarded the Governor’s Citation for Meritorious Conduct for rescuing two men from a partially frozen pond in Hanson on New Year’s Eve in 2019.
The men had fallen out of a kayak at Maquan Pond and were clinging to ice about 100 yards from shore and could not hold on any longer when Somers and White “aggressively broke the ice with their elbows to create a path” to the two victims, state fire officials said in a press release.
“With only seconds to spare, they reached the victims, securing the first to the rescue sled, and grabbing the second, who had just slipped below the surface, by hand,” the release said. “The two rescuers and two victims were pulled to shore by Lt. Wilson and four members of the Hanson Police Department who had arrived to assist.”
Another honoree was Fitchburg Firefighter Roger Ortiz, who was given a Medal of Valor for his dramatic rescue of a woman from a burning building on Sept. 22, 2019.
The fire was caused by a series of explosions in a 22-unit condo building on Beekman Street and the woman was trapped on the third floor. The only ladder available was “3 or 4 feet too short” and had to be placed several feet to the side of the window because of the conditions on the ground, fire officials said in the press release. Ortiz climbed up the ladder anyway.
“Once he reached the window, he was able to persuade the woman to stand on his shoulders while he slowly lowered her down so that her feet could reach the top rung of the ladder,” the release said. “Once her feet were on the ladder, he climbed back up and assisted her down to safety.”
Menard was hired by the Worcester Fire Department in 2010 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 2018. He was survived by his wife, Tina, and three children, Joshua, Hailee, and Morgan.
Before presenting the medal to the Menard family, Baker acknowledged the sacrifice they have made.
“... in the end, the greatest sacrifice of all is the one that’s made by the family who loses their loved one, not to an injury, and not for a week or a month, but forever,” Baker said Monday. “And when we have an opportunity like this one today, to present to that family, the Medal of Honor and to make clear to them how much we understand and appreciate the size and significance of their loss ... well for us, it’s the least we can do.”
Menard died while battling a fire at a three-story home on Stockholm Street in Worcester on Nov. 13, 2019. State fire officials said it was 12 degrees outside and winds were gusting up to 40 miles per hour at the time, and there was a report of an infant that was trapped in the building. Menard led a search of the second and third floors, and after changing air bottles, Menard and four firefighters went back in and became trapped in a stairwell between the second and third floors. Three of the firefighters escaped and received first- and second-degree burns. Menard and the other firefighter attempted to escape onto the roof. “In the process of this attempt, Lt. Menard forced the other firefighter out a third floor window, saving his life,” officials said in the press release. “Ultimately, Lt. Menard was unable to get himself out of the building before the heat from the fire overcame him.”
Speaking at the virtual ceremony, Baker described the circumstances of Menard’s death as “astonishing.”
“Several members trapped in a building doing a search, looking for anybody who might still be there,” said Baker. “Three get out, two are left. One of the two that are left literally puts himself between the fire and the window and pushes his colleague out, saving his colleague’s life and putting his own in jeopardy, with fatal consequences.”