Fallen Fire Chief’s Legacy Remembered at Unveiling of Memorial Flagpole

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Photo by Charlie Breitrose A crowd gathered at Fire Station 3 to remember former Fire Chief Mario Orangio on Monday. The flagpole was dedicated in his memory.

Family, friends, and colleagues gathered around the Fire Station on Orchard Street Monday morning to remember a former Fire Chief who left a lasting legacy not just on the Watertown Fire Department, but fire departments across the state.

Mario Orangio was the youngest fire chief in Watertown history when he was appointed in 2004 at the age of 37. He helped improve the EMS and ambulance service provided by the Watertown Fire Department, and saw the introduction of ALS (Advanced Life Support) service in his final year as chief, in 2017.

Orangio lost his battle to pancreatic cancer, an occupational illness, in November 2017 at the age of 51 and just three weeks after retiring from the Fire Department. He left behind his wife, Sandra, and three daughters: Katlyn, Jaclyn, and Jocelyn.

Photo by Charlie Breitrose

Mario Orangio’s family unveils the memorial stone at the base of the flagpole at Fire Station 3 on Orchard Street.

His family attended the ceremony at Fire Station 3, where the flagpole was dedicated in Orangio’s memory.

“We gather here today to honor a wonderful man who is not just a chief but a humble man. My dad lived and breathed fire service. His dedication was evident in every action he took,” said his daughter Jocelyn. “He cherishes his role not for the accolades but for the opportunity to serve and protect his community. Beyond his uniform, dad was an extraordinary father, husband, and all around human being.”

Watertown Fire Chief Ryan Nicholson said he hopes that the flagpole, and the stone at the bottom installed by the Department of Public works, will keep Orangio’s legacy alive.

“We wanted to create a memorial so that future generations can come by here and have Chief Orangio’s name on their mind as they come by this flagpole and this neighborhood,” Nicholson said. “It’s a good way to memorialize all that he did for the community and our department and the fire service as a whole throughout the state.”

Photo by Charlie Breitrose The memorial stone for former Fire Chief Mario Orangio.

Norm Aubert, Assistant Chief at the MassPort Fire Department and a “Watertown guy,” remembered his close friend at the ceremony.

“When it comes down to leadership in our position, leadership is action and Mario — even though he was taken so cruelly from occupational cancer at such a young age — he led, he mentored not only his men that he led, but he was always one of his men,” he said.

Aubert added that having the memorial at the fire station where Watertown’s ambulance is housed is fitting. Giving a bit of history, he said that the Watertown Police officers were the ones that used to provide first aid until the mid-1970s when the Watertown Fire Department got an ambulance and provided EMS (emergency medical service).

Orangio always had an interest in medical care, and had been a pre-med in college, Aubert said, before he became a firefighter.

Retired Fire Chief Bob Quinn said that Orangio worked on the ambulance when he was first hired in 1989, and also served as the EMS coordinator for a time before he was appointed chief. He had long pushed for Watertown to provide ALS service, where personnel can provide more procedures and administer various medications beyond what can be provided in BLS (Basic Life Support).

“He was very instrumental in many aspects of EMS and ALS in Watertown as chief,” Quinn said. “ALS started in 2017 before he retired. It was in progress and we were working at that with him and we were able to get it up and running in February of the year that he died. So he was able to see the fruits of his labor come to fruition.”

Orangio also left his mark at the state level, serving as President of the Fire Chief’s Association of Massachusetts in 2012, and he was appointed to the Massachusetts Fire Training Council by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014, on which he served as chairman.

Photo by Charlie Breitrose Former Fire Chief Mario Orangio’s daughter Jocelyn talks about her father at the dedication ceremony for the memorial flagpole.

One of the areas that Orangio focused on in his statewide work was firefighter safety. Aubert teaches classes through the Department of Fire Services at the Mass. Fire Academy, including one about taking action against cancer. He said he starts the lesson with the story of Orangio’s legacy.

“It’s very important information that we provide in house and also virtually so firefighters are aware of how they are being exposed to these carcinogens,” Aubert said.

He teaches them about the importance of wearing protective gear, such as the self-contained breathing apparatus.

Photo by Charlie Breitrose The flag flies on the newly dedicated Chief Mario Orangio flagpole.

Another part of Orangio’s legacy is that firefighter cancer is now classified as occupational, Aubert said, a change made during the Baker Administration.

“The firefighters are covered as an injury and do not have to worry about how they are going to provide for their families,” he said.

Aubert hopes that the flagpole stands as a reminder about the life’s work of his friend.

“Every time we drive by this intersection, take that second and take a look at this flagpole and reflect and remember the good times and remember what Mario did, not only for the Fire Department, for the City of Watertown, but also for the community as a whole,” Aubert said.

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