The untimely deaths of Worcester Firefighter John Davies and Peabody Firefighter James Rice this past December sent a chilling reminder of the dangerous sacrifice that firefighters face every day.
Unfortunately, this is a loss that veteran know all too well. Seventeen years ago, January 28, 1995, Stoughton’s own answered his last call.
“Victor and his crew were searching for a resident reported missing during a working structure fire in a [Rose Street] rooming house. The resident was found safe, however Victor never escaped building. He was caught in a flashover. Victor's own brother firefighters began a frantic search for him, and when he was found, it was too late,” the Stoughton Fire Department’s Facebook page recounts.
Melendy, a 23-year veteran of the Stoughton Fire Department, was just 47 years old when he died, leaving behind a wife and three children.
While the Rose Street building no longer remains, Melendy’s memory does. Melendy’s employee number, 1028, has become symbolic of Stoughton’s tragic loss, with “In memory of 1028” inscribed on Stoughton’s Engine 4 and Ladder 2.
Seventeen years later, Melendy remains in the hearts of his brother firefighters.
The special place he holds is evident by the continued memorials in his honor. One of the most meaningful for his brothers is the private graveside ceremony held each January 28.
What began as an intimate gathering of the Melendy’s fellow Group 1 firefighters on the first anniversary of his passing has now become an annual observance.
Keeping Melendy’s memory alive is paramount to his fellow firefighting brothers, which was demonstrated by their refusal to cancel last year’s service, even after a blizzard. Instead, the attending firefighters used snow blowers to clear away the many inches of snow from Melendy’s grave.
They were sure to clear the snow just to the right of the grave as well, where a replica of Melendy’s firefighter helmet rests. This one of a kind helmet was the brainchild of retired Lt. Henry Chipman and Lt. Ed Carroll.
Chipman, who was the Captain and Incident Commander that fateful night, discussed the helmet’s uniqueness.
“The person who made the replica] smashed the mold when it was finished. He said that it would be the only one he made,” Chipman said. “He doesn’t want anyone to know who he is because he wants this to be the only one.”
Chipman said his original hope was for the helmet to last one year.
“But it’s lasted 15."
This year, there was no snow to contend with as firefighters attended the annual January 28 memorial. With more than thirty of Melendy’s brothers gathered by the helmet and gravestone, Chipman led a moment of silence and brief service.
Thanking his brothers in attendance, Chipman went on to say, “Every year there are more and more of you. I think this may be the most yet. I pray that I will see you all again next year.”
Chipman’s sentiments resonated with his brothers because as firefighters, they must do just that. Pray to see each other again, never knowing when their last call may come.
But what about the extreme risk firefighters face? How does the brotherhood of firefighters remain one of the largest fraternal organizations in the world, even as each member knowingly tempts fate daily to rescue others?
“It is a calling”, Acting Captain Greg Goldberg says, referring to the Firemen’s Prayer hanging in Stoughton’s Fire Station One. “So much of this prayer speaks to the job.”
“You don’t really think about [the danger],” Firefighter Jeff Ledin said of firefighters responding to a scene.
“Everyone is going the other way; you’re going in. This is what it’s about,” he said.
Retired Deputy Chief Lawrence Dolloff (father of current Chief Mark Dolloff) shared his thoughts saying, “The more experience, the more you see things, the more you think of the risk. It just seems like [deaths of firefighters] happens more often now.”
But he added, “If you think about it that way, you best quit.”
“We go through a lot of training so we feel confident in our abilities to do what we need to when a situation arises. Everything we do is teamwork, we talk to each other the whole time,” Chief Dolloff said.
“That is what was so hard about Victor’s death...When a smart, knowledgeable firefighter, such as Victor, gets caught in a situation and perishes, it affects you a lot differently.”
Chief Dolloff paused and then added, “Whenever I hear bag pipes I think of Victor’s funeral…Days like today [the anniversary of Melendy’s death], I think a lot about it and reflect on the inherent dangers of the job.”
Victor Melendy was the second brother firefighter that the Stoughton Fire Department has lost in the line of duty.
In 1966, Edward Kelleher perished from cardiac arrest at the fire station after answering a call.
Lawrence Dolloff remembers Kelleher's last call: “I took him to the Goddard Hospital which at time wasn’t very busy…but he couldn’t be saved.” Lawrence Dolloff went on say that Kelleher “left behind a houseful of kids.”
As someone who did not experience such a loss first hand, Lt. Bill Carreiro, who joined the department in 1998, after both Kelleher and Melendy’s deaths, said, “I feel for the other guys. I just think of how I [would] feel if I lost someone I worked with.”
Those firefighters who have dealt with such a grave loss are sure to support their brothers in various communities as well. That is why several members of the department, including Chief Dolloff, attended the funerals for Davies and Rice in Worcester and Peabody.
Lt. Goldberg spoke of the importance of attending lost firefighters’ funerals.
“Having guys come from all around, for Victor’s funeral, it was overwhelming, but in a good way,” he said. “They’re there because they get it...That’s why it is important to go, you want them to know that others get it too.”
The Firefighters Prayer
When I’m called to duty God
Wherever flames may rage
Give me strength to save a life
Whatever be its age
Help me to embrace a little child
before it is too late
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate
Enable me to be alert
To hear the weakest shout
And quickly and efficiently
To put the fire out
I want to fill my calling and
To give the best in me
To guard my neighbor and
Protect his property
And if according to your will
I have to lose my life
Bless with your protecting hand
My children and my wife.