Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the Lancaster fire station before signing the McNamara Law, Tuesday morning. Claire McNamara, wife of the late call firefighter for whom the law is named, stands at left.
Photo credit: SENTINEL AND ENTERPRISE / SCOTT
LANCASTER -- Claire McNamara smiled somberly as Gov. Mitt Romney signed a law that will require communities to offer death benefits to families of call and volunteer firefighters who die in the line of duty.
The so-called McNamara Law is named after her husband, Martin H. McNamara V, who died battling a house fire in November of 2003.
The law will provide a $650,000 annuity, which will come from state money, to Claire McNamara and her three daughters.
"I know what it is like to be married to a hero. This bill recognizes my husband's heroic effort, and I am honored that it will be named after him," the widow said during a press conference outside the Lancaster fire station Tuesday morning.
"It makes me very proud that Marty's unsung bravery will not be forgotten," she continued.
Claire McNamara, Romney, and several politicians took turns speaking at a podium flanked by 45 firefighters from around the region.
A sign honoring Martin McNamara hung from a fire engine parked behind the podium.
Claire McNamara thanked all the public safety personnel and officials who teamed up to work on the bill. She also thanked the media for "continuing to reinforce the importance of this issue."
Claire McNamara said during a brief interview after the press conference that her daughters -- Molli, Elizabeth and Marty -- are now ages seven, four and one, respectively.
Marty was born shortly after her father died.
She politely declined to discuss what the family's life has been like since the tragedy.
Romney told the crowd that if a family's "breadwinner" is a public safety officer who is killed in the line of duty, cities and towns should offer them financial support.
Because Martin McNamara was not a full-time firefighter, he was not entitled to receive a publicly-funded pension.
Voters in Lancaster rejected a tax increase in 2004 that would have paid for the annuity.
Romney said the new law will "rectify this wrong, provide financial support for Claire and her three daughters, and at the same time, ensure that in every other city and town in Massachusetts, this will never happen again."
The McNamara Law requires cities and towns to purchase a life insurance policy, or one of two types of annuities for their volunteer, call, or part-time public safety officers.
The bill originally included an opt-out clause to give communities the option of not offering death benefits -- an item that had some towns with small budgets worrying.
But the Senate removed the opt-out clause before approving it.
State Sen. Robert A. Antonioni, D-Leominster, praised Claire McNamara "for her ability to stand up and ask for what was right, and clear the way to make sure no other widow endures what she went through."
State Rep. James B. Eldridge, D-Acton, said the law provides "relief and justice to the McNamara family."
"He (Martin McNamara) gave his life to support others that morning, yet his family didn't receive any support," Eldridge said.
State Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, worked on the bill, but could not attend Tuesday's press conference, because he is currently serving in the U.S. Army in the Persian Gulf.
"Marty's memory will live on in this legislation, and in the lives of his children and brother and sister firefighters from around our great state," Naughton stated in a press release.
State Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, said taxpayers should be loyal to firefighters who risk their lives to protect the public.
Claire McNamara, who stood nearby as Brewer spoke to the crowd, began to cry when the senator mentioned her and her husband's "three beautiful little girls."
"Those girls won't have a dad to walk them down the aisle when they get married," Brewer said.
Brewer said the public owes Martin McNamara "a debt that can never be paid," but the law will financially help the McNamara family, along with other families who are put in similar situations.
Brewer said during an interview after the press conference he has been advocating for a law like the McNamara Law for about nine years.
The issue gathered momentum after McNamara's death, and lawmakers in the House and Senate both unanimously voted in favor of it recently, according to Brewer.
Lancaster Fire Chief John Fleck, who was hired after McNamara's death, said during an interview that the law represents "some closure" for him and his firefighters.
"Everybody is elated to see the (McNamara) family taken care of," he said.