Firefighter dies while answering the call
When firefighters volunteer their time to fight fires, or answer the call, there is always a risk that things can go wrong. This was the case for two Owego, N.Y. firefighters who responded to a call at 10:45 p.m. Monday for mutual aid at a home located at 871 Chamberlain Rd. in Newark Valley, N.Y. Owego's Fire Captain, Matthew Porcari, age 34, wouldn't make it home that night.
Upon arrival at the scene, according to fire officials, Porcari and Owego Firefighter Daniel Gavin, age 28, entered the home to conduct fire suppression when the floor caved in, sending Porcari through the floor and into the basement of the home.
Gavin also fell through the floor, but did not descend as far, and others on the scene were able to pull him out of the floor. But according to Cliff Alexander, assistant chief for the Newark Valley Fire Department, Gavin went back in an attempt to rescue Porcari, and suffered additional injuries in this process.
Both men, Alexander continued, were extracted from the home and transported to Wilson Memorial Hospital in Johnson City, N.Y. Porcari, shortly after his arrival at the hospital, was pronounced dead. Gavin, who suffered burns, was transported to Upstate Medical in Syracuse, N.Y. where he was treated for what was described by Owego's Deputy
Fire Chief Bob Williams, as non-life threatening injuries. Alexander also noted that they had called for an airlift, but the Guthrie One was unable to respond because of the weather.
The news of Porcari's death hit the community hard upon word of this fatal turn of events. A firefighter since 1995 for the Owego Fire Department, Porcari was described as a dedicated volunteer.
"He participated in all trainings, served as a mentor, and worked with the newer members," said Owego Fire Department Deputy Chief Bob Williams during a press conference held Tuesday at the Newark Valley Town Hall.
The purpose of Tuesday's conference was to help the community understand the events that unfolded Monday night, and to answer questions. But mostly, as evidenced by the questions fielded by the reporters who arrived, they wanted to know more about Captain Matthew Porcari, and of how the close-knit firefighting community will deal with the tragic loss of their brother and friend.
Matthew Porcari was married to Christina, and had a 9-year old boy and an 11-year old girl. The two had recently added a puppy to their household, and were sharing their experiences with their new puppy with the community that surrounded them.
Porcari was also proud of his home, which he and his wife worked to repair following the flooding in 2011. A Main Street resident and an avid bowler, many will recall Porcari's bowling team shirts that read, "You Lootâ¦ We Shoot", to commemorate their protective instincts of their valuable property following the flood.
Porcari was an Owego Free Academy graduate, and proud of it, and worked for New York State at the Broome Developmental Center. A caring, yet outspoken Porcari, loved his family, and loved his community.
Daniel Gavin, who survived his injuries, grew up in Owego, N.Y., and is employed as an Owego Police Officer, Tioga County Sheriff, and has served as a volunteer firefighter since 2000. Gavin's father, Steve Gavin, was also a firefighter, and died in the line of duty in 1993. A new fire training tower and facility in Owego was initiated in his honor.
Porcari's caring for the community and his dedication, as well as Gavin's, was also reflected in their efforts to assist the Long Beach Fire Station following Hurricane Sandy, and Porcari's more recent efforts to organize a crew from the Owego Fire Department to travel and pay tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives during an ambush in Webster, N.Y. With Porcari's death, and Gavin's injuries, the sacred brotherhood shared by the firefighting community was shattered Monday evening, yet drawn closer by the outpouring of support arriving to honor their service.
When asked if these men are heroes, Alexander, during the press conference, stated, "People call us heroesâ¦. by the way, we die. It's more about his [Porcari's] life."
With six fire department members and officials present at Tuesday's press conference, the emotional toll was evident. Williams talked of the emotional toll, noting that Tioga Center and Candor are answering the calls while the Owego members begin to deal with their loss. Williams explained that the New York State Office of Fire Prevention is offering guidance, and they are receiving assistance with planning for honor guards and honorary burial arrangements. The family, he noted, was making the arrangements on Tuesday, and times and dates for services will be announced within the coming days. Fire department members are also receiving counseling, if needed.
"We're taking great efforts to take care of their needs," Williams added.
As for the fire in which they responded Monday evening, the residents of the home were already vacated upon arrival, and the home is now a total loss. Alexander noted that the fire was extinguished by approximately 11:30 p.m., and the cause of the fire continues to be under investigation.
Frank Okrasinski, deputy fire coordinator for Tioga County and a senior fire investigator noted that a lack of access to water at the property, which was located in a remote area outside of the Village of Newark Valley, led to the call for mutual aid. "That brought Owego, as well as several other fire companies, to the scene with tanker trucks," said Okrasinski.
Half a dozen companies responded to the fire, to include Owego. A vigil was scheduled to be held at the Fireman's Fountain in the Courthouse Square in the Village of Owego Tuesday to give the community a chance to honor, and mourn.