LANCASTER -- Town residents voted against providing Martin McNamara V's widow and family with annual death benefits following his death fighting a fire in November 2003.
After waiting anxiously for several hours as the town's votes were counted, family members of fallen Lancaster fire fighter Martin McNamara V and his fellow firefighters were left stunned and visibly distraught.
Just 18 votes separated those who were against a tax override that would have raised local taxes 7 percent for one year to fund an annuity to pay the McNamara family annual benefits. The final vote count was 1,615 against, 1,597 in favor with 170 blanks.
McNamara's father, Martin McNamara IV, reacted sharply to the defeat, saying there were 30 call firefighters in Lancaster who "just got a message from the town people that said if you lose your life, it isn't worth it to us."
McNamara later added his gratitude for those who did vote in favor of the override.
One Lancaster firefighter shouted as he left the polling location "This town just sent these guys a message and the message is they don't give a crap. The townspeople just said 'Stick it.'"
Lancaster has an all-call, or volunteer, fire department.
McNamara, a call firefighter from Clinton, was killed on the morning of Nov. 29, 2003, the day after he turned 31 years old while battling a fire in the basement of a home on Mill Street. He left behind a wife, Claire, and three small daughters.
Jim Buck, a member of the committee to support the McNamara family said they intend to seek a recount. Town Clerk Susan Thompson also said there were 29 provisional votes -- votes taken by people who claimed they were registered in Lancaster but whose names were not on the voter registration lists, that could be added to the final count if they are validated as legitimate Lancaster voters.
At the Annual Town Meeting last May, voters overwhelmingly supported purchasing a $650,000 annuity to be used to provide McNamara's widow and three children an annual death pension equal to two-thirds the annual salary of a first-year firefighter. It would also allow the McNamara family to purchase town health insurance. Voters at that same town meeting also improved coverage for all call firefighters to ensure that if another call firefighter is killed in the line of duty, the town will have the insurance to provide for the family.
Had voters approved the override, residents would have seen their tax bills increase by approximately $140 for every $100,000 in property for one year only.
Chairman of the Selectmen Joanne Foster said she was saddened by the result but vowed "we are not going to let this family go without any benefits."