Massachusetts Firefighter Paralyzed Battling 1999 Blaze Dies

HULL, Mass. -- Former Hull firefighter John Clasby, who was paralyzed when he was struck by a bullet while fighting a house fire in 1999, died Tuesday at South Shore Hospital.

"I think that the firefighters are taking it pretty hard, but I think that they realize there's peace because John's traveled a very difficult road these past nine-plus years. ... He's in a better place," Hull Fire Chief Robert Hollingshead said. "Bottom line is he was there to help people, and he paid the ultimate sacrifice."

Clasby, 46, was paralyzed on June 29, 1999, when a bullet severed his spinal cord. The source of the bullet remains a mystery.

Fire officials initially suggested that Clasby, a 10-year veteran of the department, had been struck by a fitting from a gas-grill propane tank that exploded. But the emergency room doctor who first treated Clasby said it was a gunshot wound.

About nine months after the fire, investigators formally blamed Clasby's injuries on "the discharge of an unattended, abandoned revolver left in the area of the garage-storage shed." No trace of a gun was ever found and State Police listed their findings in the case as "inconclusive."

"(The incident) certainly changed the fire department, I consider forever," Hollingshead said.

Clasby, along with eight other Hull firefighters, was awarded the Medal of Honor, the state's highest honor, for his efforts fighting the fire.

"John was a fun-loving kid. He liked challenges, and he was very talented with his hands and mind. The fire service was a great match for him. The challenge and the excitement was right with his personality," Hollingshead said.

Clasby was the father of three teenagers.

Viewing hours will be held at Pyne Keohane Funeral Home in Hingham from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Ann's Church, 198 Samoset Ave., Hull, at 10 a.m. Monday.

Republished with permission of The Patriot Ledger.