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Firefighter dies after responding to Watertown blaze

The scene was somber Friday outside a house fire on Merrifield Avenue in Watertown after firefighter Joseph Toscano collapsed.Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff

WATERTOWN — Corned beef and cabbage wasn’t allowed in Joseph Toscano’s firehouse kitchen — not even on St. Patrick’s Day.

He started his shift in Watertown on Friday prepared to treat his fellow firefighters to a gourmet meal of shrimp and chorizo over pasta. But the meal was never made.

Toscano, a father of five from Randolph, became the first firefighter in Massachusetts to die in the line of duty since 2014 when he suffered a medical emergency and collapsed Friday morning, officials said. He was stricken while battling a two-alarm fire inside a home on Merrifield Avenue, officials said.

“He left this morning to go to work like he did every day,” Watertown Fire Deputy Chief Bob Quinn said. “To have this happen, it was pretty devastating.”


His fellow firefighters rushed Toscano, 54, out of the residence and tried to save him before he was taken to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, where he was pronounced dead, Quinn said. What caused Toscano to collapse is unknown, the deputy chief said.

Toscano’s wife, Maureen, and their five children are grief-stricken, he said. The three boys and two girls are between the ages of 12 and 19.

“I was at the hospital when they arrived, and it was devastating when his five kids came into the room and his wife,” said Quinn, who made Toscano his assistant 12 years ago.

In a statement issued Friday night, Toscano’s family called his death “an unthinkable loss for our family.”

Joseph Toscano.

His family remembered Toscano as a “loving husband and father” to Maureen, his wife of 25 years, and his children, Alyssa, Patrick, Mary Cate, William and Michael.

“Family was at the center of Joe’s life and defined him,” the statement said.

The fire at 29 Merrifield Ave. was reported to authorities at 10:16 a.m., officials said. Toscano drove Quinn to the scene after leaving the site of a car crash less than a mile away, the deputy chief said.


When they arrived at 10:22 a.m., Quinn said, heavy fire and smoke were coming from the second floor and he called for a second alarm. Toscano and other firefighters went inside the residence, where he collapsed in a room where the fire was burning, Quinn said.

Maja Young, who lives nearby, said it appeared that the blaze was under control when rescuers rushed out of the home with Toscano and started chest compressions. The firefighters acted bravely, she said, when they ran into the burning house.

“To see one of them come out on a stretcher was . . . the worst thing,” Young said. “It’s all anybody’s really thinking about. . . . It was really sudden and dramatic.”

Firefighters and police rescued two people from the home and some pets, Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn told reporters.

One person who was evacuated was injured, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Fire Services.

Young said a woman lives in the home with her elderly uncle. The woman escaped the residence in a bathrobe with soot on her face, but reentered the home twice to look for her dogs and try to put out the fire with an extinguisher, she said.

Investigators don’t believe the fire is suspicious and are looking at the possibility that it was started accidentally, state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said.


“It’s the most difficult day for firefighters,’’ Ostroskey said. “This is certainly a tremendous blow to the department, a very close-knit group of people. . . . It’s a terrible, terrible loss.’’

Toscano’s death came as the anniversary approaches for two other firefighters who were killed in the line of duty. Boston firefighter Michael Kennedy and Fire Lieutenant Edward Walsh Jr., a Watertown native, perished while battling a massive blaze on Beacon Street in the Back Bay on March 26, 2014, officials said.

Before Toscano’s death, the Watertown Fire Department suffered its last fatality in the late 1950s, Quinn said.

Toscano became a Watertown firefighter in September 1996. “Joe loved being a Watertown firefighter,” his family said in their statement.

As news of the death spread, Watertown began to grieve. Black bunting was hung from the front of fire department headquarters, American flags were lowered to half-staff on Main Street, and mourners left flowers at the town’s fire memorial.

“If I had to say anything about Joe, I’d say firefighter was number three on his list of accomplishments. He was as good a father as I’ve ever seen, a great husband,” said Rob Mannix, president of Watertown Firefighters Local 1347. “The guy would do anything for you. He had a heart of gold. He’s going to be missed.”

Governor Charlie Baker expressed his condolences on Twitter, saying his thoughts and prayers were with Toscano, his loved ones, and his fellow firefighters.

In Randolph, Toscano’s death was felt deeply at Saint Mary Parish, where the firefighter worshiped with his family, said the Rev. Jack Ahern, the pastor.


Maureen Toscano teaches religious education and helps decorate the church at Christmas and Easter, while the couple’s children are current and former altar servers, he said.

“The people of Randolph are just heartsick because they were such a wonderful family,” Ahern said.

The Rev. John Ronaghan said he met the Toscanos when he served as the parish’s administrator.

“The Toscanos are a wonderful family,” he said. “He was a loving father and good community person and concerned, obviously, about other people.”

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, offered prayers for Toscano on his blog.

In the firefighter’s neighborhood, residents recalled how Toscano built his family home.

“He’d do anything for anyone,” said Mary Paine, a family friend. “The whole family is like that.”

The fire at 29 Merrifield Ave. was reported to authorities at 10:16 a.m. Friday, officials said. Toscano and other firefighters went inside the residence, where he collapsed.Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Nicole Fleming can be reached at