Steven H. Foskett Jr.
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.
Ahead of a benefit set by the Dropkick Murphys Friday night at the Beer Garden & Pavilion for the family of fallen firefighter Lt. Jason Menard, Fire Chief Michael Lavoie told the crowd some people warned him it might be happening too soon.
He told the crowd of several hundred packed into the venue they’ve all been hurting for more than a week now, since Menard, a husband and father of three, was killed Nov. 13 in a four-alarm blaze at 7 Stockholm St. He said the benefit, organized with the assistance of the the Greg Hill Foundation, was a chance for firefighters, their families, and friends to have a good time before going back to honoring their brother.
“And this is part of the healing process,” the chief said. “We just need a couple hours to – a distraction, that’s what we need.”
Organizers said around 450 of the $20 tickets were purchased; all of the proceeds will go to Menard’s family, along with a portion of bar sales. A 50/50 raffle was up and running Friday, and boots made their way across the crowd for impromptu donations.
DJs warmed up the crowd ahead of the Dropkick Murphys’ set; founding member Ken Casey said declining the chance to be part of the benefit never crossed his mind. He said the band was able to meet with members of Menard’s family ahead of the performance.
“Seeing firsthand what everyone is going through, it makes it that much more real,” he said.
Casey said he believes what gets you through loss like the Menards and the local firefighting community is experiencing knowing his spirit is watching over. But for a brief window Friday night, Casey said his band would offer a respite.
“I think our job in those instances is to bring a smile to people’s faces,” he said.
Bagpipes got things rolling earlier in the evening as a firetruck parked outside the Beer Garden; ticketholders lined the sidewalk and said they were happy to contribute to the benefit.
Bridget Hutchins and Matt Moniz of Orange and Hutchins’ mother, Pat Hutchins, waited as the line slowly started moving into the Beer Garden around 6 p.m. Moniz said he works for an emergency medical service provider in northern Worcester County; Bridget said they came Friday night because they felt others would do the same for them if the unthinkable happened.
Mayor Joseph M. Petty said he wanted to thank the Dropkick Murphys and the Greg Hill Foundation for the support; he said he wanted to go Friday night to show his support for the chief and his department. He said he was heartened by the turnout.
“It shows that one more time the community is coming together,” Petty said. “It shows that Worcester is one big family.”
Menard died helping fellow firefighters escape the inferno after they became trapped on the third floor of the building. He helped a probationary firefighter to the stairs and then returned to rescue another trapped firefighter, Christopher Pace, assisting him out a window.
Pace was seriously injured, and is still recovering. Chief Lavoie Friday night said Pace’s condition continues to improve, but cautioned he still has a long road ahead. He urged everyone in the crowd to donate to a GoFundMe page set up to help Pace and his family. As of Friday night, the fund posted more than $37,000 in donations.
The chief said Menard was first and foremost a family man, and loved his wife and three children more than anything in the world. But he said Menard also cared deeply about the greater community.
“He cared about all of you people,” the chief said.
He said Menard was the “epitome of a firefighter,” and said his actions in the Stockholm Street blaze exemplified that dedication.
“Jason Menard is a true hero, in every aspect of the word,” Lavoie said. “We don’t throw that word around lightly in the fire services.”
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