Monday, June 28, 2004

Grads honor fallen firefighter

McNamara died in blaze

Matthew Bruun

LANCASTER MA. Surrounded by members of her late husband's fire department, a tearful Claire B. McNamara was presented an honorary diploma during an emotional ceremony marking the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy's newest graduating class of recruit firefighters.

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said the spirit of Martin H. McNamara V ran through the training program and inspired the class of recruits that graduated yesterday.

The reality of firefighting, he said, is that firefighters must be ready for anything.

"It's not a script," Mr. Coan said. "Marty McNamara answered his last call in service to his community."

Acting Lancaster Fire Chief Sandor Ford said Mr. McNamara, who was killed fighting a blaze on Mill Street on Nov. 29, would have been enrolled in the Firefighter I/II Plus training program that ended yesterday.

"Over the past five months, these recruits have been turned into firefighters," Chief Ford said.

Lancaster Firefighter Sean M. Whitney, one of six members of his department to graduate, approached the podium after his fellow trainees had been given their diplomas.

"I have one more diploma to hand out," he said. He called Mrs. McNamara to the stage while the packed audience in the Mary Rowlandson Elementary School auditorium gave her a standing ovation.

Outside the ceremony, Mrs. McNamara posed with the recruits and state legislators for group photographs.

The recruits also presented Mrs. McNamara with the class flag. Firefighters from Berlin, Bolton, Carlisle, Charlton, Clinton, Harvard, Holden, Holliston, Lancaster, Princeton, Shrewsbury and West Boylston made up the graduating class.

After the ceremony, Chief Ford said the presentation of the class flag was a significant honor.

"It shows that it's not just Lancaster that was affected by it," he said, recalling the tragedy in November. "We all still feel it."

The Lancaster department served as host for the bulk of the 200-hour training program, which began in February. It was the fourth such class for call or volunteer firefighters, said Program Coordinator Joseph R. Nedder Jr.

The program has had more than 130 graduates and has a long waiting list, Mr. Nedder said. Its success has rebutted naysayers who questioned whether call or volunteer firefighters would be willing to subject themselves to lengthy training.

Mr. Nedder urged the graduates not to be intimidated by knowing more than some members of the departments to which they now return.

"Ignorance is not innocence, but sin," he said. "Among you are the future leaders of the fire service. Training will make you great firefighters."

Firefighter Whitney, the recruit class spokesman, credited the instructors at the academy for sharing their experiences and classroom knowledge.

"We will leave here today as professional firefighters," he said.

Among the speakers was Richard A. Farrar, interim director of the academy. He urged the firefighters to return often for additional training.

"You're only as good as you allow yourselves to be," Mr. Farrar said.

The graduates are:

Berlin: Chris A. Carleton, Stephen D. Carleton, Patricia A. Correia, Sarah L. Roach, Philip W. Wilgus Jr..

Bolton: David J. Byler, Thomas J. Coolidge, David M. Farrell, John H. Menzer and Daniel F. Opila.

Carlisle: Kevin Stacey.

Charlton: David A. Wedge.

Clinton: Kevin A. Bartlett, Roger W. McManus Jr., Gregory M. Nelson.

Harvard: Frank H. deBettencourt.

Holden: Michael R. Himmer, Peter C. Lacy, Daniel M. Staruk.

Holliston: Brian A. Maeder.

Lancaster: William W. Bartlett II, Richard J. Bodine, Brett M. Collins, Steven DiMeco, Richard M. Krafve III and Sean M. Whitney.

Princeton: Christopher F. Allen, Philip M. Connors and Jamie M. Hawkins.

Shrewsbury: Michele H. Vincequere.

West Boylston: David J. Aquafresca, Edward D. Ramstrom and Karen E. Ricardi.

Photo below

Claire B. McNamara of Clinton is comforted by Lancaster Firefighter Sean M. Whitney as she is presented her late husband's honorary diploma yesterday. (ED WOZNIAK)