Hanson firefighters were among personnel in seven fire departments across the state receiving Governor’s Group Citations for Meritorius Conduct during the 31st annual Firefighter of the Year awards, conducted virtually on Monday, March 8 by the Mass. Department of Fire Services.
During the ceremony, Worcester Fire Lt. Jason Menard, who lost his life in a November 2019 blaze while aiding fellow firefighters to escape the flames, was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
“Although this is a virtual ceremony, nothing replaces what the fire service does,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who with Gov. Charlie Baker gave remarks from the Worcester Fire Department. “Clearly a firefighter is someone who is born brave,” Polito said. “They are built in a very different way. … We are eternally grateful for the Jason Menards and for all those who choose the fire service — who get up without question, put on the uniform, answer the call of duty and go do their jobs.”
“Across our commonwealth and across our country, we’ve asked a lot of our pubic safety professionals over the last year,” Baker said in remarks recorded for the ceremony. “Day after day, they showed up, time and time again, to do their jobs and keep us safe.”
Baker pointed to initiatives such as a five-year commitment to a fire equipment grant, investments in fire training, support for community education grants to prevent fires and the recently-signed flame-retardant bill as illustrative of his administration’s support for firefighters.
Hanson Fire Chief Jerome Thompson, Jr., Lt. Keith Wilson and firefighters Gary Somers, Thomas White and Timothy Royer were honored for their work in an ice rescue of two people from Maquan Pond on New Year’s Eve, 2019.
The department had received calls after 10 p.m. that night about people in the water on an open section of the pond, which was partially covered in ice. When they arrived, they heard the victims shouting and learned that they had fallen out of a kayak and had been in the water for about 10 minutes.
The victims were clinging to an ice shelf about 100 yards from shore, unable to get out of the water and onto the ice. Firefighters Gary Somers and Thomas White donned rescue suits and tried to reach them over the ice, while Thompson and firefighter Timothy Royer launched a rescue boat.
The ice, too think for the rescue boat was too thin to hold the weight of Somers and White, who began to “aggressively break the ice with their elbows” when the victims made clear they couldn’t hold on much longer.
“With only seconds to spare,” the awards narrator stated, “they reached the victims, securing the first to the rescue sled and grabbing the second, who had just slipped below the water.”
Lt. Keith Wilson and four members of the Hanson Police Department pulled the rescuers and victims to shore.
During his remarks in Worcester on Monday, Gov. Baker became emotional in describing the sacrifices made by firefighters and their families.
“Firefighters are a special breed,” Baker said of the profession he said takes its oath to serve and protect seriously. “In the end, the greatest sacrifice of all is the one made by the family, who loses their loved one — not to an injury, and not for a week or a month, but forever.”
He said opportunities to express how the size and significance of their loss is understood, is the least we can do.
“I hope I never have to give out another one of these awards during my time in public service, because I can’t imagine how hard it is for all of you to deal with tihs,” Baker said.
WFD Lt. Jason Menard was a 10-year member of the Worcester Fire Department, sad state Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, who described Menard as a “firefighter’s firefighter — always there to help his brother and sister” firefighters.