A veteran of the Watertown fire department died today during a two-alarm blaze while helping rescue an elderly man, the man's niece and their dogs as flames shot out an upstairs window, city officials and a neighbor said.
Joseph A. Toscano, 54, a firefighter with the department since Sept. 26, 1996 and a married father of five children, succumbed to injuries after rushing into the single-family home on Merrifield Avenue, the city's deputy fire chief said. He had been taken to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge where he died.
"I saw them carry that poor fireman out. They all went in with flames shooting out of the house," Bob Petrillo, 81, told the Herald. "I don't know how they do it. He went right into the flames."
Petrillo, who lives right next door, said the two-alarm blaze on Merrifield Avenue was the worst he's ever seen.
"It's devastating," said Town Councilor Angie Kounelis of Toscano's death. "We are grieving, we grieve as a community. It's a sad day for Watertown."
Toscano was the right-hand man to Watertown Deputy Chief Bob Quinn -- his “eyes and ears” from inside burning structures -- and drove today to the scene. They arrived at 10:22, and Quinn said he “struck a second alarm immediately.” Toscano went in the home to assist.
“I got a call shortly thereafter that there was a firefighter down,” he said. “The firefighter was inside working inside the fire area, extinguishing and overhauling, when he collapsed.”
Quinn said the last firefighter death in Watertown was in the late 1950s. Flowers were laid at a fallen firefighter memorial outside the Watertown Fire Department Headquarters -- a shirt depicting the “Watertown Strong” slogan rested next to them.
Firefighters lowered black bunting from the roof of the station. A man driving a backhoe down Main Street stopped in front of the station, pointed at the bunting, and handed a firefighter cash before continuing down the road.
“It’s just such a traumatic event,” Quinn said.
Quinn and Toscano were at an automobile accident on School Street when word of the fire came through, the deputy chief said. They rushed to the scene, listening to the radio, “and there wasn’t much conversation,” Quinn said.
Earlier in the day, before the fire, the two old friends talked about what was for dinner. Toscano was one of the department’s best cooks, Quinn said, and he was already planning the evening meal.
“Shrimp and chorizo over pasta,” Quinn said. “That was the planned meal.”
Kounelis, who visited the scene and whose district contains the site of the fire, said battling any blaze carries stress from heat and smoke, and those hazards can be overwhelming.
"The individual's body is subjected to elements a layperson's would not be, firefighters are putting themselves at risk no matter the size of the fire," Kounelis said. "If you're going in you're going into danger and that was obvious today, he died in the line of duty."
A call came in for a fire at 29 Merrifield Avenue at 10:16 a.m., according to the Watertown Police Department.
Petrillo said he first smelled smoke and then stepped outside to see his neighbor's house on fire and the fire department trucks all pulling up and the firefighters rushing out.
"Their heroics were unbelievable. One firefighter was walking on the roof as the flames were shooting out (to vent the fire). He was just walking on the roof like it was the ground," the retired auto parts manager said. "The smoke was black and heavy and the flames were pouring out the bedroom window.
"I saw them bring out the elderly man, his niece and their dog. The man walked with a cane and needed help," he added.
His wife, Pauline Petrillo, said she was playing BINGO at the local senior center when she heard of the fire on her street.
"My heart was pounding," she said, adding she wasn't able to reach her husband right away. "I thought it was my house at first."
Officials said they do not believe the fire to be suspicious in nature and an investigation is ongoing.
This is the first firefighter to die in the line of duty in the Bay State since Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, of the Boston Fire Department died in a raging Beacon Street blaze in the Back Bay on March 26, 2014.
Social media has filled up today with support for Watertown from all over.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Watertown Fire Department and family pic.twitter.com/TnDz0tNu0R— Weymouth Fire (@WEYMOUTHFIRE) March 17, 2017
Brother Toscano from #WatertownFire - your job is now done. May St. Florian guide you on to paradise!— Walpole Firefighters (@WFDLocal2464) March 17, 2017
Keep Joseph Toscano's family and the Watertown Fire Department in your prayers. Rest in Peace Brother. pic.twitter.com/BjMoIKRaoU— Charlton Fire Dept. (@CFD24) March 17, 2017
Overweight firefighters should not work the fires. The stress is too much, the adrenaline is rushing, the smoke is heavy, the temperatures are high and the poor heart cannot always take it. In our view, these overweight firefighters are asking for trouble. Stay away and let the more fit people do the heavy lifting. RIP.
Firefighter dies after collapsing at scene of house fire Posted: Mar 17, 2017 3:14 PM EST Updated: Mar 17, 2017 3:14 PM EST
By: The Associated Press
WATERTOWN, M.A. - A firefighter who collapsed while responding to a house fire in Watertown has died.
Police Chief Michael Lawn said Friday that the firefighter appears to have suffered a heart attack.
He had collapsed at the scene of the morning blaze and was rushed to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, where he later died.
Lawn said the incident is under investigation. Officials haven't yet released the name of the firefighter.
Fire officials are also still investigating the cause of the fire.
Lawn said two people were evacuated from the single family house.
A witness said a woman in the home came outside in a robe with black soot all over her face and tried to go back inside to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher.
WATERTOWN, Mass. (AP) — A firefighter who collapsed and died after responding to a house fire Friday morning was a 21-year veteran of the department and a married father of five children, colleagues said.
Town and fire officials in Watertown say 54-year-old Joseph Toscano, of Randolph, suffered a medical emergency as he and others battled the morning blaze at a residence in the Boston suburb.
He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he later died. The cause of death is still under investigation, but officials say it might have been a heart attack.
Deputy Fire Chief Robert Quinn said Toscano was an experienced and trusted 21-year veteran of the department who served as his "eyes and ears" inside fire scenes. He said Toscano was stationed at the fire department headquarters for most of his career and had served as his driver. He should have stayed as a driver and doing office work. This is not a job for an overweight person.
"We never expect this day to happen, but it happened," Quinn said. "It's a tough job. It really gives you a punch in the face to see this happen."
Toscano is the first Massachusetts firefighter to die in the line of duty since 2014, when two Boston firefighters were killed battling a fast-moving blaze in Back Bay, according to the state fire marshal's office.