A Watertown firefighter died Friday morning while responding to a two-alarm house fire, officials said.
Joseph Toscano, 54, was taken to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, where he was pronounced dead. Firefighters could be seen performing CPR on him after he collapsed.
Toscano, a Randolph resident, was married with five children and had been a firefighter for more than 20 years.
The fire was reported to authorities around 10:15 a.m., Watertown Police Chief Michael Lawn told reporters. Police and firefighters helped two people and some pets evacuate from the burning building.
“During the course of the fire, our firefighter collapsed,’’ Lawn said.
“We’re a small town, and we work with our fire department every day and people are friends and family. It’s a sad day for everybody. This is a loss,” he said.
One neighbor described the harrowing moments as firefighters carried Toscano out of the building.
“They were so brave, running into the burning house, and then to see one of them come out on a stretcher, it’s the worst thing,” said Maja Young. “It was sudden and dramatic. Just a lot of frantic activity from the house, to the street, to the ambulance.”
Young said the fire seemed to be out when the firefighters brought Toscano out.
“We thought it was a person who lived in the house, but it was a fireman. Then EMS and firemen started to do compression,” she said.
Watertown Deputy Fire Chief Bob Quinn said Toscano drove him to the blaze at 29 Merrifield Ave. after they responded to a crash at School and Arsenal streets. They found heavy smoke and fire coming from the second floor of the home and Quinn said he immediately called for a second alarm.
The fire was mostly extinguished, Quinn said, when Toscano suffered a medical emergency, collapsed, and was carried out of the residence by other firefighters. He was rushed by ambulance to Mount Auburn Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Quinn said he was at the hospital when Toscano’s wife, Maureen, and their five children arrived. The three boys and two girls are between the ages of 12 and 19, he said.
“The family took the news terribly,” Quinn said. “He left this morning to go to work like he did every day. To have this happen is pretty devastating.”
State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said investigators have determined the fire wasn’t suspicious. They are looking at some accidental causes for the blaze, he said.
Toscano joined the fire department in 1996 and had worked as Quinn’s assistant for the past 12 years. He was considered one of the best cooks in the firehouse. For dinner Friday, he was planning to prepare shrimp and chorizo over pasta, Quinn said.
Corned beef and cabbage, the traditional meal for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, was off limits in Toscano’s kitchen, firefighters said.
“He said it was horrible food,” said Rob Mannix, president of Watertown Firefighters Local 1347.
Ostroskey said his office, Watertown fire and police officials, and State Police assigned to Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s office will be investigating the blaze.
“It’s the most difficult day for firefighters,’’ Ostroskey said. “This is certainly a tremendous blow to the department, a very close-knit group of people. . . . It’s a terrible, terrible loss.’’
One of the people evacuated from the home was injured, said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for Ostroskey’s office.
Governor Charlie Baker tweeted his condolences Friday afternoon, saying his thoughts and prayers were with the firefighter, his loved ones, and his fellow firefighters.
The death was the first line-of-duty death of a firefighter in Massachusetts since two Boston firefighters were killed battling a massive fire on Beacon Street in the Back Bay on March 26, 2014, Mieth said.
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