NORTH HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Hundreds of firefighters gathered with family and friends Tuesday for the funeral of a Connecticut firefighter who died from heart problems while battling a house blaze last week.
Matthias Wirtz, a 22-year veteran of the North Haven Fire Department, was remembered as family man who was dedicated to serving the community. He was 46.
Firefighters from across the region lined a street in North Haven in the rain as a procession including the fire engine Wirtz drove and bagpipers made its way to St. Elizabeth of Trinity Parish at St. Barnabas Church. A large U.S. flag hung from two fire ladder trucks.
Speaking during the service, North Haven Fire Chief Paul Januszewski described Wirtz’s last moments before Wirtz collapsed on Dec. 26 while operating a fire engine outside the burning home. He said there was distress in Wirtz’s voice as he responded, “Roger, ready for water,” his last words on the radio.
“He was hurting, but he wasn’t going to say anything to anybody because he knew his brothers were inside looking for occupants,” Januszewski said. “He knew that failure wasn’t an option. And he was putting everybody else above himself, just what he has done his entire life.”
“He would not want to be called a hero. I can tell you that,” Januszewski said. “But I don’t know what else to call him at this point.”
Wirtz received numerous letters of commendation over the years. He was among the Connecticut firefighters who responded to the terrorist attacks in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.
His cremains were to be entombed at a local cemetery.
Wirtz is survived by his wife and mother.
The state chief medical examiner’s office determined Wirtz died of heart problems.
The fire displaced 13 residents of the multifamily home. No one else was injured. The cause remains under investigation.
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