At the FDIC International 2021 Opening Ceremony Day 1 on Wednesday, August 4, in Indianapolis, FDIC Education Director Bobby Halton remembered the 2020-2021 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award recipient, Lieutenant Jason Menard from the Worcester (MA) Fire Department, who died in the line of duty.
Halton began: “The recent government lockdowns, albeit generally with the very best of intentions, had wide-ranging impacts, some of which will be felt for generations yet to come. Some will never be undone. The presentation of honors at funerals, an earned recognition of the utmost significance, was among those time-honored traditions that were banned, halted, prohibited.
“Irrespective of what reasons caused the intrusion of tradition, we know that honor delayed is honor nonetheless, and maybe greater honor is gained by refusing to not deny honor correctly earned although delayed. As such, we now turn our attention to the presentation of the Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, a presentation of honors to a recipient who earned our recognition and regard.
“The award is named for FDNY Deputy Chief Ray Downey, and normally his sons would be here along with our recipient or a representative of the organization or family. But this is not an ordinary year.
“Chief Downey, we hope, would agree that despite the fact that the award was presented to the family a year ago so as to help alleviate some of the financial burden of their loss, the debt of honor was not fulfilled until this assembly had an opportunity to hear Lieutenant Menard’s story, to examine his courage and valor, and to reflect on his sacrifice and service.
“Chief Downey would want words about him to be brief, but his example is still the gold standard for all firefighters, his sons Chuck and Joe are the living embodiment of his character, integrity, and discipline.
“Today, we honor Lieutenant Jason Menard, a gentleman whose dedication to duty in the most trying of circumstances rose to the ultimate level.”
Menard succumbed to thermal injuries he sustained in a residential fire on November 13, 2019, after he had pushed fellow firefighter Christopher Pace to safety. The fire was on the second floor of a three-story balloon-frame wood structure in Worcester. The initial report to dispatch was that a mother and her baby were trapped on the third floor. As a result of some miscommunication, it was then reported that the mother was out but the baby was still on the floor unconscious.
Menard, working his regular shift as the company officer on Ladder 5, was dispatched on the first alarm. Ladder 5 was the first ladder truck on scene and was assigned to search the second and third floors.
The primary search was negative. Ladder 5 members exited the building and changed out their air bottles. Menard spoke to the incident commander about their next assignment, which was to clear out the exits on the second- and third-floor rear. The rescue team had reported that they could not gain access to the rear porches because a large amount of debris was stored in the back hallway.
Menard and his crew ascended the stairs at the C-D corner of the building. At this time, reports from inside the building were that the visible fire on the second floor had been knocked down.
The following information was obtained through interviews: As Ladder 5’s crew reached the third floor landing, they were met with increasing amounts of heat. Fire had advanced from the second floor up the stairwell, cutting off Menard and Pace. Menard and Pace dove into a storage shed built on the third-floor porch and closed the door behind them, seeking an area of refuge. Menard immediately broadcasted a Mayday, explaining their situation and location.
The rapid intervention team was immediately dispatched to the third-floor rear. Although there was no active fire in the storage shed, the heat was unbearable because of the fire below them right outside the door and the fact that there was no ceiling to block the heat from the attic descending on them. The heat was so intense that Pace, who was holding the door closed, received second-degree burns through his gloves, and the soles of his boots melted.
Menard decided that they could not wait any longer and had to attempt an escape. They opened the door. Menard pushed Pace toward and out the third-floor porch window.
What happened next is uncertain. Either Menard could not get himself out of the window or he returned to find the probationary firefighter assigned to him. He made his way back into the storage shed, where he ultimately succumbed to his thermal injuries.
Pace, although seriously injured, survived this ordeal because Menard pushed him out the window. That was the first thing Pace told Chief Michael Lavoie from his hospital bed.
Halton concluded: “For his devotion to duty and his courage and valor, which exemplified the highest traditions of the Worcester (MA) Fire Department, FDIC is honored to name Lieutenant Jason Menard as the 2020-2021 Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award recipient. Please join with me in a moment of silence to remember Lieutenant Menard.”
The Ray Downey Courage and Valor Award, established to honor a firefighter whose actions deserve national recognition, honors Deputy Chief Ray Downey of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), who lost his life on September 11, 2001. He was chief of rescue operations and a 39-year veteran of the department. At the time of his death, he was the most highly decorated member of FDNY.
The award is presented annually at the FDIC Opening Ceremony; it is considered the most prestigious award in the American fire service. The award consists of a Courage and Valor medal and $35,000.
The Courage and Valor Selection Committee is comprised of members of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation; the National Fire Academy Alumni Association; Ray Downey’s two sons, FDNY Deputy Chief Joe Downey and FDNY Battalion Chief Chuck Downey; and representatives of Fire Engineering.