Matthew Cullinane; fire chief kept cool in the face of danger


In his 31 years with the Concord Fire Department, Matthew Cullinane Jr. was involved with many rescues, but a call he responded to in January 1968 presented a particular challenge.

He arrived on Rollingwood Lane to find a 16-year-old boy’s arm caught in a snow blower, his hand nearly severed. Reaching into the machine, Chief Cullinane, then a captain, cupped the boy’s hand in his own. He used a lard lubricant on the machine parts and reversed the gears as he slowly eased the boy’s arm out, protecting the injured hand with his own.

“If the captain had lost his coolness, we’d never have been able to save the hand,’’ Dr. Joseph Winsten, part of a team of surgeons who reattached the hand during a four-hour operation at Emerson Hospital in Concord, told the Globe in 1968.


Chief Cullinane died Dec. 7 of complications of pneumonia in Gulfside Regional Hospice in Zephyrhills, Fla. He was 89 and had lived in Zephyrhills.

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“He was a person who thought it was important to make a difference to people,’’ said his daughter Marsha Cullinane Cope of Landenberg, Pa.

In the 1960s, Chief Cullinane was among the rescuers who responded to a barn fire where horses were trapped inside, his daughter said.

She said he went in while the structure was collapsing and was able to get two horses out before the barn fell on him, leaving a giant blister across his chest.

“It was important to him to be a good citizen,’’ his daughter said. “He saved many lives.’’


Chief Cullinane, who was known as Matty, was born in Lexington and grew up in Charlestown.

He was 9 when his family moved to Concord.

The next year, his father was injured in an accident at work. Chief Cullinane began working for Western Union delivering telegrams to help earn money for his family, his daughter said.

He enlisted in the US Marine Corps in 1941 on the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked and volunteered for commando operations, becoming one of Edson’s Raiders in the First Marine Raider Battalion, his family said.

He fought in what became known as the battle of Edson’s Ridge on Guadalcanal island. Chief Cullinane was wounded on the island of Tarawa, for which he received a Purple Heart.


After a long recovery, Chief Cullinane returned from the Pacific in 1944. For the rest of World War II, he was stationed in Boston and New York, where he taught troops hand-to-hand combat. He was discharged in 1945.

Chief Cullinane settled in Concord and joined the town’s Fire Department in 1947. After being promoted to captain and then chief, he retired in 1978.

In the 1970s, Chief Cullinane also volunteered in the operating room at Emerson Hospital.

After retiring, Chief Cullinane and his wife, Margaret, traveled in a recreational vehicle across the United States and Canada. They ended their journey in Dade City, Fla., in the 1980s and began living in the Travelers Rest Resort and RV Park, a retirement community.

Still interested in rescue work, Chief Cullinane established a first responder squad at Travelers Rest, recruiting members of the community to join. He taught them first aid and established a close relationship with the local rescue department.

When he was not busy with the rescue squad, Chief Cullinane enjoyed participating in round dancing, golf, and musical events at Travelers Rest.

Before his death, Chief Cullinane focused on caring for his wife, who is in a nursing home in Zephyrhills.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Chief Cullinane leaves another daughter, Lynne of Pennington, N.J.; a son, David of Livermore, Calif.; two brothers, Daniel and Donald, both of Concord; and a sister, Patricia Napolitano of Maynard.

A service has been held.

Amanda Cedrone can be reached at