Grieving For A Hero: Firefighters' Widows Gather To Help Devastated Family

Standing a few yards from where her volunteer firefighter husband died in a wind-whipped house inferno, Claire McNamara doubled over in unimaginable grief yesterday. The new widow, whose third baby is due any day, could stand the sight of the gutted apartment house only briefly - its rafters exposed like a charred skeleton - before she rushed into the arms of a woman bystanders identified as an old friend.

``The minute she is ready we are waiting for her,'' said Michelle Lucey, speaking for herself and the four other widows of the 1999 Worcester cold storage fire.

Lucey didn't know Martin ``Marty Mac'' McNamara, who died early Saturday hours after his 31st birthday, but she knows Claire McNamara's pain all too well. Fire claimed her husband Jeremiah and five other Worcester firefighters on Dec. 3, 1999.

``The minute I heard about the Lancaster fire my heart saddened for the people who are left behind with the burden of pain I have to live with and my children have to live with,'' she said.

In Lancaster, Claire McNamara held her friend tightly and sobbed uncontrollably yesterday for a full minute before they slipped into separate cars and drove off. The grieving widow left with her husband's parents, Martin and Joanne McNamara of Clinton, to plan the funeral.

The firefighter widows who came to Lucey's side after the Worcester fire helped her realize she had to move on with her life - for herself and her two sons.

``When your husband is taken away you feel like everything is over,'' Lucey said. ``It gives you hope seeing that other people have gone through it and made it through.''

Meanwhile, Clinton Deputy Fire Chief John McLaughlin, who was overcome by smoke trying to reach McNamara in the blazing basement, remained hospitalized yesterday in stable condition with thermal burns and smoke inhalation, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said.

``He will be there for some time,'' Coan said. Two other Clinton firefighters were treated and released from a local hospital Saturday.

Lancaster volunteer firefighter Michael Hanson, who had served as McNamara's training officer when he first joined the department three years ago, yesterday recalled his fallen comrade as an easy-going guy with a great sense of humor.

``He'll be remembered as a great guy, a great firefighter,'' Hanson told reporters. ``He always thought about his kids and wife, and he loved doing this job.''

Hanson said his fellow Lancaster call firefighters are leaning on each other to get through the tragic loss of their brother jake.

``Be there for each other, that's all we can really do,'' he said.

McNamara is survived by children Molli, 5, and Elizabeth, 2. Claire McNamara, a nail beautician and high school cheerleading coach, is nine months pregnant with the couple's third child.

Throughout the day yesterday, red-eyed Lancaster volunteer firefighters stood silently on the street in front of the gutted three-story house on Mill Street while residents of Lancaster and Clinton drifted up to the scene to pay their respects.

``He was an athlete and a loving father,'' recalled Jack Gorman of Clinton, who coached a young McNamara on Clinton's Legion baseball team.

``It's a shock. It's a tragedy,'' Gorman said. ``He was just such a great kid. It was always about somebody else, never himself.''

Funeral services for McNamara will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. at Saint John's Church in Clinton. Calling hours are today from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Philbin Comeau Funeral Home in Clinton.

The family has established The Martin ``Marty'' McNamara Memorial Fund at Leominster Credit Union in Clinton.