Massachusetts Community Holds Vigil For Fallen Firefighter Killed In 2003; Died Fighting House Blaze

LANCASTER -- The house exterior at 76 Mill St., is nearly rebuilt, but grief for a fallen firefighter remained raw at a candlelight vigil for Martin McNamara V Monday night.

The vigil marked the first anniversary for McNamara -- a call firefighter from Clinton who died while fighting a house fire at the same Mill Street location on Nov. 29, 2003.

"It's been one year since Marty didn't return from that call," widow Claire McNamara said in between pauses for tears. "The dreams we shared are no longer attainable."

Martin McNamara was 31 when he died, leaving behind Claire McNamara and three young daughters -- Molly, Elizabeth and Marty, who was born after his death.

"At some point I know the right words will come ... explaining to baby Marty why she'll never meet her daddy ... ," Claire McNamara said.

Shelly O'Toole, a close friend to Claire McNamara, said the family is coping.

"It's been a long year ... she has good days and bad days," O'Toole, of Clinton, said of Claire McNamara. "I was impressed with the service, it's a tribute to Marty's memory. I hate to have to come to something like this."

Following prayers, a man played "Amazing Grace," on bagpipes, while Lancaster firefighters placed a flowered wreath in front of the house at 76 Mill St.

The crowd of at least 100 people, then released red balloons into the clear night sky, with messages such as "Marty, we miss you so much."

Friends and family then lined up to give hugs and condolences to Claire McNamara, as the last of the balloons drifted away.

Firefighters from several surrounding towns, including Clinton, Leominster, Townsend, Sterling and Westminster also attended the vigil.

"The fire service is a brotherhood," said Westminster firefighter Phil d'Entrenmont. "Whether it's yesterday, one year or ten years, when a brother dies in the line of duty, it's on your mind."

Martin McNamara's death drew additional attention earlier this month, when Lancaster residents voted down an override on Nov. 2, which would have paid an annual death benefit for his family.

The measure would have paid for a benefit of about $24,000 and access to the town's health care benefits.

O'Toole is still angry voters decided not to pass the override.

"Words can't describe how I feel, how angry I was that night," she said.

The Board of Selectmen voted to establish a town Public Safety Officers' Survivor Benefit Fund on Nov. 19, and announced the new fund Monday.

The fund will take contributions for an annual death benefit for the McNamara family and survivors of other call firefighters and part-time public safety officers killed in the line of duty in Lancaster.

"We're responding to many individuals (asking) for a fund exclusively for a survivor's pension," said Board of Selectmen member Joanne C. Foster. "The message our board heard on the override was ... the mechanism to pay for it was not affordable. (This) allows people to contribute at a level they can afford, the override didn't allow that."

Foster said the board has not yet decided how it will distribute the money, but it was established "predominantly" for the McNamara family.

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