WORCESTER — The call came in at 1 a.m. A fire was raging through a three-family home on Stockholm Street, and there were reports of two people, including a baby, trapped upstairs.
As the fire crews fought to reach them, the heat became overwhelming.
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday,’’ a firefighter shouted into his radio. “Very hot up here.”
“Get to a window! Let us know where you are,’’ a commander ordered. As the flames climbed higher, burning through a hose line and pinning firefighters on the third floor, the devastating news crackled over the radio.
“We’re still missing one member,” a firefighter said.
Worcester Fire Department Lieutenant Jason Menard, 39, was killed in the four-alarm fire Wednesday after helping two of his colleagues reach safety and desperately searching for anyone trapped inside, fire officials said.
He “heroically and selflessly saved his crew, helping a probationary firefighter to the stairs and then returning to rescue another trapped firefighter [and] assisting him out the window,” Worcester Fire Chief Michael J. Lavoie said at a news conference.
Three other firefighters were injured. One remained hospitalized in critical condition, officials said. One woman who lived in the home was hospitalized with serious injuries. About 15 people were displaced by the fire; all were accounted for.
But amid the chaos, firefighters had to assume the reports of residents trapped inside were accurate, officials said. It was not clear whether some residents may have been trapped before managing to escape.
State and federal investigators are working to determine what caused the fire. Throughout the day Wednesday, investigators milled around the home in the bitter cold, as icicles hung from empty window frames and power lines nearby.
Menard’s death came as the city prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the Cold Storage warehouse fire that killed six firefighters on Dec. 3, 1999. Two other Worcester firefighters have died in the line of duty since then, in 2011 and last December.
“There are no words to express how difficult this loss is,” said Edward Augustus, Worcester’s city manager. “I stand before you and ask that our city does what we have become all far too familiar with doing, which is to wrap our arms around this family and this department during this devastating moment.”
Menard joined the department in 2010 and had a “true passion for firefighting,” said Michael Papagni, president of the city firefighters union.
“He was always a joy to have in the firehouse and to be around,” he said.
Lavoie said Menard “absolutely loved being a firefighter.”
“He took his job very seriously, performed it admirably,” he said. His dedication to the city was unwavering, he said.
Menard leaves his wife, Tina, their three children, and his parents, officials said. Papagni said Menard “loved his family more than anything in the world.”
“He found great joy in spending time with them and loved his wife and his children very much.”
Menard and his family lived along a close-knit cul-de-sac, said one longtime neighbor, who recalled him as a “wonderful, wonderful man.”
“He was always lending a hand. You didn’t even have to ask,” said Debbie Henricksen. She and her family would sometimes come back from vacation to find that Menard had mowed their lawn.
Menard and his family had planned to leave for a trip to a Disney resort Wednesday morning, officials said.
“They are now instead planning a hero’s sendoff,” Papagni said. “We will send off Jason as he deserved and as he earned.”
Menard’s body was driven from Worcester to the chief medical examiner’s office in Boston, where an autopsy was performed. As the hearse arrived on Albany Street, firefighters saluted their fallen colleague.
“It’s a sad day,” said Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn, who watched the somber procession in the cold. “Our hearts and minds go out to the Worcester Fire Department. It’s certainly a very tragic time of year for the department and they’re all great firefighters and great men.”
As the fire spread early Wednesday morning, the flames drove families from their beds and into a bitter night.
“They came out of the house screaming, that’s what caught our attention,” said Kathy Desrosiers, who lives across the thickly settled residential street. She called 911 to report the noise and the dispatcher told her what had happened.
“I looked back and saw flames coming out of the window,” she said. “I woke my husband up and said, ‘Scott, we’ve got to do something.’ ”
She saw a woman covered in soot sitting on the side of the road with her baby, along with several other displaced residents, none of whom had shoes or socks.
“They were all very distressed,” Desrosiers said. “They didn’t know where to turn. We just ran out and grabbed her and said, ‘Please come in my home. Come in my home, get out of the cold please.’ ”
About 10 neighbors came inside, including two infants and a young boy. Desrosiers and her husband provided them with clothing, blankets, and tea and coffee.
“They watched their home burn,” Desrosiers said. Paramedics came to check on a woman and her infant, who were both taken to the hospital.
“They could tell she had smoke inhalation, the baby as well,” Desrosiers said.
Desrosiers mourned Menard as a hero.
“God bless him,” she said. “God bless that man.”
Menard was the ninth Worcester firefighter to die in the line of duty since 1999. Last Dec. 9, Firefighter Christopher Roy was killed when he was trapped in the basement of a six-unit apartment building that had allegedly been set on fire by a former tenant. Roy was 36 and was a single father raising his daughter. The former tenant, Momoh Kamara, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in Worcester Superior Court. The case is pending.
In 2011, Firefighter Jon D. Davies Sr. was killed while searching a triple-decker on Arlington Street, where there were reports of a resident trapped inside during a three-alarm fire. Davies died on Dec. 8 when the rear of the structure collapsed on top of him. Davies was the father of three boys.
On Wednesday, Julie Peralta, an emergency dispatcher in Worcester, brought her 3-year-old son Tony to the fire station where Menard worked. They placed a bouquet of flowers with the others left in front of the station, and Peralta leaned into her son’s ear to share a message.
“We said, ‘Thank you very much for being so brave,’ ” Peralta said. “They need to learn how important these people are to us. They’re our heroes.”
Peralta said she went to middle school with Menard and would listen for him on the radio as she dispatched calls.
“He’s the greatest guy, the nicest guy,” she said. “His family was everything, from what I can tell.”
As the fire raged early Wednesday, the situation grew more desperate.
“First floor is burnt,” one firefighter said. “It’s all coming up behind us.”
Just after 2 a.m., an hour after arriving, firefighters stopped their search.
“We have a burnt line,’’ a commander said. “Get out of the building. . . . Be advised we lost all control. . . . All members should be out of the building, correct? Nobody should be in the building.’’