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‘We’re all brothers’: Firefighters gather for Worcester Fire Lieutenant Jason Menard’s funeral

Firefighters gather for Worcester Fire Lieutenant Jason Menard’s funeral
Worcester firefighters lifted the casket of their colleague, Lieutenant Jason Menard, before his funeral procession to St. John’s Catholic Church Monday. (Video produced by Shelby Lum|Globe Staff, Photo: Nic Antaya for the Boston Globe)

WORCESTER — Fire Lieutenant Jason Menard, who died last week rescuing two fellow firefighters from a burning home, was honored at his funeral Monday as a hero who made the ultimate sacrifice.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” the Reverend Walter Riley said to grieving family members and firefighters in St. John’s Catholic Church.

“Our entire city struggles again, alongside our dedicated Fire Department,” Riley said. “We have lost one of our own in the most sacrificial way possible.”

On a cold, rainy morning, more than 1,000 firefighters gathered in downtown Worcester to pay tribute to Menard, a 39-year-old father of three who died Wednesday battling a four-alarm fire. Riley recalled Menard as a devoted father, husband, friend, and firefighter, doing it all with “wonderful balance.”

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On a recent visit to the Menard home, Riley saw a piece of craftwork that read, “Home is where the story begins.”

“Our brother Jason has shifted homes from the limitations of this world to life eternal,” he said. “He waits for you all, especially his family.”

Danny Pace, brother of firefighter Christopher Pace, who remains hospitalized from injuries suffered in the blaze, said Menard had saved his brother’s life.

“His actions are the reason my only brother is still here today and because of that, we are indebted to the entire Menard family,” he said. “Our families are forever linked in an indescribable way. Thank you will never be enough.”

Menard was “the bravest and most selfless man I’ve ever had the chance to meet,” he said.

“May your heroic legacy continue to shine down on us,” he said. “Your incredible loss is felt on so many levels.”

The funeral drew firefighters from across New England and beyond. They stood at attention, white gloves in salute, as Engine Four from the Worcester Fire Department bore Menard’s casket to the front of the modest, red-brick church.

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Governor Charlie Baker attended the funeral for Worcester Fire Department Lt. Jason Menard.Nic Antaya for The Boston Globe

In a eulogy, John Dwyer, a fellow fire lieutenant, told mourners he did not have to “define a hero.”

“All I have to do is talk about Jay Menard and I’ll be honoring a hero, a word he’s already defined,” he said.

He recalled Menard as a wonderful father and husband, a true “brother” to his fellow firefighters, and a man who always had a “smile on his face and a natural ability to make everyone feel special.”

The funeral program included a message from the Menard family, who said they wished to “express our heartfelt thanks for your expressions of sympathy, caring, and compassion shown to us during these most difficult hours.”

“Whether it was a prayer, a phone call, a visit, food, kind words or your presence, we want you to know how we are truly appreciative,” the family added.

Outside the church, Christine O’Day mouthed the words to “The Lord’s Prayer” as loudspeakers carried audio from the funeral Mass to firefighters and others in the overflow crowd.

When her sister died of cancer in 2006, Menard’s family had reached out to her, she said. “I inherited this beautiful family,” she said. “I had to be here. My heart and soul is there with them in that church.”

She recalled Menard fondly.

“The times I was with him he extended kindness, caring, and generosity,” she said. “There was always a smile.”

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Fire officials have credited Menard with saving the lives of two firefighters as they searched the three-family home for a child reportedly trapped inside. The child was later found safe.

As the flames intensified, Menard guided a probationary firefighter to safety and helped a second firefighter out a window, officials said. Three firefighters were injured, including Pace, who remains in intensive care at UMass Medical Center, officials said.

According to a fund-raising page set up by his family, Pace suffered 14 broken bones and second- and third-degree burns. His recovery is expected to take some time.

After the service, Menard’s casket was again placed atop Engine Four as a throng of firefighters in dress uniforms, and dignitaries who included Governor Charlie Baker, US Senator Edward Markey, and US Representatives James McGovern and Joseph P. Kennedy III looked on.

The engine and the rest of the procession departed to St. John’s Cemetery to the skirl of bagpipes.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of firefighters gathered in the great rotunda at Union Station before a short walk to the church, drinking coffee, tuning bagpipes, and staying warm on a chilly gray morning.

Worcester firefighter Jose Machado sat by himself on a bench as colleagues and firefighters from far and near milled solemnly around him.

“This just keeps reminding me of everything that’s happened,” Machado said, referring to the nine Worcester firefighters who have died in the line of duty since 1999. “But we have to do our jobs, you know? We have to get back on the trucks.”

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Nearby, Ed Burgess of Norton said Menard’s death is a grim reminder of the dangers firefighters face. “We’re all brothers. It affects all of us, and it could happen to any of us,” said Burgess, one of seven Norton firefighters who came to the funeral. “We’re here to show respect to his family and his department.”

Shortly before 11 a.m., bagpipers began marching along a short route to the church as uniformed firefighters and other mourners stood at attention. A man whom television commentators identified as Menard’s best friend walked solemnly in the procession, carrying Menard’s helmet.

“He did his job to the best of his ability,” said Springfield Fire Commissioner B.J. Calvi. “He was a true hero.”


Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com. Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.