WATERTOWN (CBS) – The Watertown community is mourning the loss of a 21-year veteran of the fire department.
Joseph Toscano, 54, died following a medical emergency as he battled a two alarm blaze on Merrifield Avenue.
It seemed a day like any other day when firefighters responded to the call, according to the Deputy Fire Chief Bob Quinn.
“He left this morning to go to work like he did every day and to have this happen is pretty devastating,” Quinn said.
In the midst of extinguishing the fire in a second floor room Toscano suddenly collapsed.
“Nothing prepares you for this,” said union president Rob Mannix.
Firefighters rushed Toscano from the home on a stretcher trying to provide emergency aid but he later died at the hospital.
It was devastating as well for those who witnessed the scene. “I was worried, everyone was worried. We weren’t expecting it to happen,” said witness Osman Yageiou.
Two residents of the home made it out, but the grim faces of firefighters at the scene told the rest of the story.
“This puts the reality in it,” said Deputy Chief Quinn. “It gives you a punch in the face to see this happen.”
At fire headquarters where Toscano worked as a commander bunting was hung and the firefighter memorial drew new attention for the married father of five.
Toscano’s family said he “took immense pride” in being a husband and father.
“You can see Joe’s warmth, kindness, curiosity for life and love of the outdoors reflected in his five extraordinary children,” Toscano’s family said in a statement. “Family was at the center of Joe’s life and defined him.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation but officials say it does not appear to be suspicious.
Related: Watertown Mourns Firefighter Toscano
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said he was heartbroken to learn of Toscano’s death.
“Our Commonwealth is grateful for the incredible service and dedication of our first responders who go above and beyond to keep our communities safe and I am heartbroken to learn of the loss of Firefighter Toscano,” Baker said. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family, loved ones and the Watertown Fire Department during this difficult time.”
According to the United States Fire Administration, 22 firefighters have died nationwide as of March 15.
The organization reports that overexertion is the leading cause of firefighter deaths. In 2015, 60 firefighters died from stress or overexertion with 54 of those deaths due to heart attacks.
The last line of duty firefighter death in Massachusetts was when Lt. Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy were killed battling heavy flames on Beacon Street in March 2014.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kim Tunnicliffe reports
Full statement from Toscano family:
“Our family is devastated by the loss we suffered today as our loving husband and father was taken from us suddenly while responding to a fire. Joe took immense pride and joy in being a husband to Maureen, his wife of 25 years, and dad to Alyssa, Patrick, Mary Cate, William and Michael. You can see Joe’s warmth, kindness, curiosity for life and love of the outdoors reflected in his five extraordinary children. Family was at the center of Joe’s life and defined him. Along with being an exceptional husband, father, brother, uncle, son-in-law and friend to many, Joe loved being a Watertown Firefighter.
“Joe was a master craftsman. He built the home he shared with his family with his own hands. A gourmet chef, Joe was known for his pizzas and his special mussels dish and was the unofficial Watertown Fire Station chef. Joe always made time for you — regardless of what he was doing. He was a man of great integrity and honor. Joe’s work ethic, generosity and kindness touched everyone he knew. He was a dedicated and energetic volunteer at Incarnation Camp of Connecticut, which he attended as a child and worked at as an adult for nearly four decades.
“This is an unthinkable loss for our family. Joe’s loving spirit will be with us forever.”