Friday morning, Watertown lost a great father, a talented cook and an excellent firefighter when a 21-year veteran of the Watertown Fire Department collapsed at a fire and died later at the hospital.
Joseph Toscano, 54, of Randolph, joined he Watertown Fire Department in September 1996, and leaves behind his wife Maureen and five children between the ages of 12 and 19 – three boys and two girls.
Deputy Fire Chief Bob Quinn knew Toscano well, having chosen him to be his aide and driver 12 years ago when Quinn became a fire deputy.
“I got to select my aide when I became deputy,” Quinn said. “I chose him because he was a good firefighter, and a smart guy.”
Fire Union Chief and Fire Lt. Rob Mannix said while Toscano was an excellent firefighter, he first thought of him as a great father, second as “one of the best cooks,” and then as a firefighter.
Quinn said the last conversation he had with Toscano was about what was for St. Patrick’s Day dinner.
“It was going to be shrimp and chorizo over pasta,” Quinn said. “He refused to make corned beef and cabbage.”
Toscano and Quinn were at the scene of an auto accident on School Street when they heard about the fire on Merrifield Road in the East End on the emergency radio. They rushed over, saw the flames and Quinn immediately called a second alarm. Toscano was one of six firefighters to go in to fight the fire.
“He was the eyes and ears for me, telling me what’s going on,” Quinn said.
What exactly happened to Toscano in the fire is unclear. Quinn said the fire was under control, but not completely out and Toscano was helping to open walls to check for spread when he collapsed. The other firefighters in the home administered CPR and rushed him out of the house. They put him into an ambulance to be taken to Mount Auburn Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
“I was there at the hospital when the his family arrived,” Quinn said. “It was devastating to see. He left this morning for work like everyday.”
Firefighters know how dangerous their job can be, but Quinn said the loss of a brother firefighter still hits hard.
“It hasn’t happened in my 30 years, but it has happened now,” Quinn said. “It’s a punch in the face.”
The last Watertown firefighter to die in the course of duty was Firefighter Charles Morrill, in April 1959, according to the Watertown Fire Department.
The cause of Friday’s fire remains under investigation, said State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey.
“I can tell you we do not believe the fire to be suspicious,” Ostroskey said. “There are a number of accidental causes in the process of being ruling out or identifying.”
The mood outside the Central Watertown Fire Station on Main Street was somber. The flag was lowered to half staff, and wreaths and a Watertown Strong T-shirt were lain next to the memorial to fallen firefighters in front of the station.
Mannix asked for people to have Toscano’s family in their prayers.
“He was a great father, a great firefighter,” Mannix said. “He is going to be missed.”
The Watertown firefighters on duty Friday were taken off duty for stress counseling, Quinn said. Members of fire departments from surrounding communities responded to incidents in Watertown.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll said Toscano’s death will touch more than just those who he knew or worked with.
“For this community of 33,000 people, this is a very sad day,” Driscoll said. “We lost a hero. … Keep your thoughts and prayers with all members of the Fire Department as they go through a difficult time.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris remarked how Thursday night had been a joyous one, with the Fire Union and Town officials agreeing to a new contract. Then Friday morning he received a call from the Town Manager that was hard to comprehend – learning about a firefighter down, and later finding out he had died.
The whole town is in mourning, Sideris said.
“We’re a small town, like one big family,” Sideris said. “Those guys come and work hard. Sometimes people think it is not as tough a job as it is, but look at what happened today. We are very proud of the men and women of the fire department, and members of all fire departments.”