Worcester firefighter, killed Sunday, was a single father devoted to his daughter
WORCESTER — Christopher J. Roy would drop off his 9-year-old daughter, Ava, at his parents’ house before his round-the-clock shifts, and then call to check in with her when she got home from school, and again before bedtime.
In between shifts, Roy worked in construction so he could afford a house in Shrewsbury, a town he chose for the schools, and could take Ava and his parents on vacations.
This summer, they went to Old Orchard Beach in Maine, where he would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to pitch a tent on the sand before the crowds filled in.
“Everything revolved around Ava, and he’d always call me up and say, ‘What are we going to do this weekend? Let’s go to the Brimfield Fair,’ ” said Roy’s mother, Michele Roy.
On Sunday, as Ava slept at her grandparents’ house, Roy responded to a basement fire in a three-story, six-unit apartment building on Lowell Street. He rushed inside, along with other firefighters. But the blaze quickly swept upward, forcing the firefighters to the second floor, where five of them escaped down ladders.
Only Roy, 36, did not make it out. The single father, who had become a firefighter just 2½ years ago, was the eighth from Worcester to die in the line of duty in 19 years.
On Monday, his family, friends, and fellow firefighters recalled him as a devoted father, son, and brother who loved history and the outdoors but was dedicated above all else to Ava, a fourth-grader at the Calvin Coolidge Elementary School in Shrewsbury.
He called her “my munchkin,” Michele Roy said.
“He was a kind and generous and giving man who lived for his daughter,” Roy said. “He raised her as a single dad and made sure she had the best of everything. It was so hard, but he never, ever complained. He loved his daughter so much.”
Now, Michele Roy said, she and her husband, Ronald, are caring for Ava, while grieving for their son, who was “our rock.”
“He was just everything to us,” Michele Roy said. “He was our world and I don’t know how we’re going to go on without him. But we have to for Ava, and we will.”
Roy’s funeral will be held Saturday at St. John’s Catholic Church in Worcester. The city firefighters’ union, IAFF Local 1009, has set up the Ava Roy Fund to benefit the family.
“Everybody is staying strong and supporting each other and doing the best we can,”
said Michael Papagni, the union president. “[We are] keeping the family as our number one priority.”
Authorities have not said what sparked the five-alarm fire or how Roy became trapped inside the building, which city officials said was up to code.
Roy’s death came as Worcester marked seven years since another firefighter, Jon Davies, was killed in a burning three-decker. Nineteen years ago this month, the city lost six firefighters in the Cold Storage warehouse blaze.
As with those deaths, first responders from Worcester and beyond carried out the solemn rituals of mourning one of their own.
Standing at attention on highway overpasses on Monday, dozens of firefighters and police officers saluted as Roy’s body was taken in a white van from Worcester to Boston for an autopsy.
Outside the chief medical examiner’s office, more than 50 Boston firefighters and two dozen Boston police officers greeted the van.
Later, in Worcester, hundreds of firefighters stood shoulder to shoulder, their hands behind their backs, as a black hearse bearing Roy’s body stopped in front of the Webster Square Fire Station, where Roy was assigned to Ladder 4.
The procession, which included local and State Police, paused only briefly before resuming its journey to a funeral home. Family members stood at the far end of the line, where one distraught woman extended her arms toward the hearse as it rolled past.
She sobbed, threw her head back, and closed her eyes as a man to her left held her shoulders tightly.
Albert Acevedo, a Lowell Street resident, was among those moved by the firefighters who ran into the building after the fire was first reported at about 4 a.m. Sunday.
“We take their help for granted,” Acevedo said. “These people don’t know us from a hole in the wall. But they rush in to save us.”
Roy traveled a winding path into the fire service.
A Worcester native, he attended St. Peter Marian Junior-Senior High School and graduated from Burncoat High School, Quinsigamond Community College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009, with a degree in hospitality and tourism management.
After college, he was the manager at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Worcester, where Ariana Guzman and her sister were waitresses.
“He was awesome,” Guzman said Monday. “He was very easy-going. He was the boss everybody always wanted.”
Roy, who was about 6-foot-5, worked for the Consigli Construction Co. for the last four years, and joined the Worcester Fire Department less than three years ago, at the urging of friends.
“He became a firefighter because he decided that was something he really wanted to do,” Michele Roy said. She worried about his safety, but he told her he loved the job, she said.
He would text her pictures of the dishes he would whip up for Ava and his fellow firefighters, including stromboli or pulled pork. At work, he was always thinking about his daughter, she said.
“If we had trouble with her homework, he would say just say, ‘Send me a picture of the page, Mom, and I’ll check it for you,’ and he did,” she said. “And then in the morning, he would text me and say ‘on my way,’ ” when he came to pick up Ava after his shift ended at 7.
He also cared for his grandmother, Michele Roy said, and got a tattoo across his arm that read “in perseverance” to honor her memory after she died.
He was close, as well, to his brother, Jason, and Jason’s daughter, Ashlynn, who was Roy’s goddaughter. In his free time, he liked to ride his ATV in the woods and hunt with a crossbow.
For a vacation, he and Ava went to Walt Disney World one year. He was especially fond of Christmas and would start looking forward to the holiday in October.
“He’s already got a tree in his home,” Michele Roy said. “It’s that time of the year that he loved so much to share with us. We love him so much and he will be so missed, [especially by Ava].
“Her heart is broken and she’s trying to be so strong,” she continued. “She has only us.”
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.