The final call: Funeral service held for fallen firefighter
Hundreds of people filled the foyer of the Owego Free Academy, queuing to pay their respects to fallen Owego Fire Department Captain Matthew Porcari, who lost his life responding to a call for mutual aid to a house fire on Chamberlain Road in Newark Valley, N.Y. on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. Quietly they filed into the school's auditorium and gymnasium for the funeral service held Sunday.
With a nod from the master of ceremonies, a bagpiper emerged from the right side of the stage and began to charge his bagpipes. The crowd fell silent, it was impossible to tell there were hundreds of people seated already. With bellows full he began a slow and mournful rendition of Amazing Grace, and firefighters filed in from across America to include California, Kentucky, and all parts of New York and Canada.
Christina Porcari was led in, taking a seat in the center section, and among a crowd so large that the use of the high school was required.
But her husband was Mathew Porcari, child of the close-knit 'Flats' neighborhood of Owego, N.Y.; and his friends and family spoke not just about him, but about Christina and the children, Tierney and John. Each speaker touched on the happiness and good that Porcari brought into the lives of the people who were lucky enough to know him, and called on the community to support his surviving family members in the tough days ahead.
Porcari's Pastor, Rob Campbell, led the services. "I'm deeply saddened by his sudden departure," Campbell said, and quoted John 15:13, 'Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.' "Matt lived this verse," Campbell said. Campbell spoke of Porcari's faith, saying it is the greatest of the many gifts Porcari gave the community.
"He's absent from his body, but present with the Lord," Campbell said, and closed the eulogy with "we'll see you, Matt."
Firefighting is an ancient profession, and steeped in tradition. One of those traditions is the bell calling firefighters to duty, and when the emergency has passed ringing the all clear. The bell also tolls solemnly to announce the passing of a comrade, three sets of three chimes, the last alarm, calling a firefighter home. Those nine bells chimed for Matthew Porcari, Captain of Croton Hose Company Number 3 of the Owego Fire Department.
After the nine bells, Owego Fire Chief Ed Franz and Porcari's uncle, fellow firefighter Lieutenant Lee Dunham, solemnly walked onto the stage. They stood facing each other at either end of Porcari's flag draped casket, a hand on each corner. The casket was in the center of the auditorium's stage, over three dozen floral arrangements to either side. The two men, each overcome with emotion earlier while speaking about their departed colleague and friend, stood silently.
Dunham then turned on his heel, and placed his hands on the corners of his nephew's casket. He had driven engine 803 on Porcari's last call, and was about to drive the same engine again bearing the remains of his loved one on his last journey. The auditorium again fell silent, absolutely silent but for the cooing of a baby. No one else stirred as Porcari's casket was pushed out on the cart which supported it, preceded through the exit by the six pall bearers.
The space behind the coffin was now clearly in view. Two pillars each held part of Porcari's uniform. Left was the blue dress cap. On the right was his helmet, reading on the shield from top to bottom 'Owego - 3 - Porcari.' Between the pillars was a tall trophy Porcari had won. The Owego Fire Department members filed out of the auditorium to the sound of bagpipes, which faded into the distance as they were led away for their somber escort duty.
Owego Fire Police Captain Bob Williams said that Porcari was a great individual, leader and mentor. "He was an excellent role model for the younger members," Williams said.
Tioga County Fire Coordinator John Scott thanked all the departments which came to support Owego and provide the tremendous assistance necessary for the ceremony. Scott also thanked the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services' Fire Prevention and Control for coordinating the ceremony. "Everyone did a great job," Scott said.
The most stirring part of the ceremony had come early, when Porcari's daughter Tierney took the stage to read a composition she wrote about her father. "My daddy was an awesome dad . . ." The young girl could not get any further and left the stage, not the only one in tears. Pastor Campbell read the words for her, which ended, "Daddy died a hero to me and all of you here today." Yes he did, Tierney, and yes he is.
A procession led Porcari away, with an escort of firefighters on foot, and firefighting apparatus. The procession made a stop in front of Croton Hose Company No. 3 on Talcott Street for the ringing of three bells that called Captain Matthew Porcari home.