A Worcester, Massachusetts, fire lieutenant died early Wednesday as he and his crew responded to report of a trapped baby during a raging fire at an apartment building.
Chief Michael Lavoie said Lt. Jason Menard, a 39-year-old husband and father of three, died of his injuries after his "heroic efforts" to save people in the four-alarm fire at 7 Stockholm Street.
Lavoie said fire authorities received reports of a baby trapped on the third floor of the building as well as a report of a trapped resident around 1 a.m.
Menard "heroically" and "selflessly" helped a probationary firefighter to the stairs before returning into the flames to help another firefighter escape out the window, Lavoie said.
"He was a passionate fire officer who loved being a firefighter. He took his job very seriously, performed it admirably and his dedication to the residents of Worcester was unwavering," he said.
Four firefighters, including Menard, were transported to a local hospital from the scene. One firefighter remains in serious but stable condition. Two other firefighters were treated for non-life threatening injuries and have been released.
One resident, a woman, was transported to the hospital with serious injuries. Later, city officials said all residents were accounted for and it's unclear if there was ever a baby trapped in the burning building.
"This is an extremely difficult day for the Worcester Fire Department," Lavoie said. "Lieutenant Menard’s heroic actions saved the life of one of his crew members."
Firefighters and other officials remembered Menard as being passionate about his job.
"This is a tragic day for the Worcester Fire Department and the City of Worcester," said Mayor Joseph M. Petty. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Lieutenant Menard’s family."
The Menard family was scheduled to depart for a vacation to Disney World after his shift ended Wednesday, according to Michael Papagni, president of the city firefighters' union.
"They are now instead planning a hero's sendoff," he said.
About 15 residents were displaced by the blaze. Officials could not immediately say whether a baby was among those displaced.
The cause of the blaze is not yet known. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating at the scene of the fire while local fire authorities continued to battle hot spots.
The blaze, reported sometime around 1 a.m., left the building badly damaged.
Neighbor John Welch said he ran out of his own home when he heard banging on his door. He then saw his neighbors running from the burning structure.
"I looked up. Seen the smoke coming out of the second floor window. Five minutes later the whole second floor was fully involved," Welch recalled. "These people literally had nothing on their backs."
Kathy Desrosiers, who lives across the street, said she opened up her home to some of the residents who were cold after they escaped with no socks or shoes on their feet.
"I don't know why people wouldn't. A little ounce of humanity today goes a long way," she said.
Conditions were difficult for firefighters as they not only battled the blaze, but also the biting cold. Several departments assisted in the response.
The fire department in Worcester, the state's second largest city, has seen its share of tragedy.
Menard's death comes less than a year after the on-duty of death of Worcester firefighter Christopher Roy, and about a month before the 20th anniversary of the deaths of six Worcester firefighters in a warehouse blaze in December 1999.
In December 2011, firefighter Jon Davies Sr. died while battling a house fire.
Gov. Charlie Baker ordered all U.S. flags and state flags be lowered to half-staff at all state buildings out of respect for Menard until further notice.