Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Springfield firefighting community pays tribute to Lt. Matthew LeTourneau

Fallen firefighter Matthew LeTourneau always wanted to be a firefighter and he encouraged his fellow firefighters to “never stop training.”

On Sunday black bunting was displayed over the engine bay at Springfield Fire Company to commemorate LeTourneau. A longtime volunteer with the company, LeTourneau, 42, died Saturday in the line of duty in while battling a row house fire as a Philadelphia firefighter.

LeTourneau began his time in the fire service at Springfield Fire Company when he joined in July of 1991 at 16. He was attending Cardinal O’Hara High School at the time and graduated in 1993. A life member at Springfield, LeTourneau became interested in the fire service because his grandfather served as a firefighter in Chester.

“This is where he started, what put him on the path to be a career firefighter,” Springfield Fire acting Deputy Chief Thomas Foran said at the firehouse. “His dream was to become a career firefighter in Philadelphia. He achieved it. He was absolutely a leader and just a super knowledgeable firefighter.”

Springfield firefighter Bill Lavery said LeTourneau gravitated toward training and firefighting became “second-nature” to him, noting that over the years LeTourneau encouraged firefighters to build up their muscle memory of firefighting skills. He described LeTourneau as a driven student.

“He was like a sponge,” Lavery said.

LeTourneau passed on that knowledge as an instructor at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center, where he taught several classes including fire behavior. Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center Deputy Director Kerby Kerber said LeTourneau spent time talking to and learning from the engineers at Underwriters Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute and the National Institute of Standards and Technology during testing at the training center.

“Matt incorporated much of the information from the research into his programs so his students had the best and most current information,” Kerby said. “Matt took every advantage to expand his knowledge. He attended programs and courses as well as instructor workshops and train the trainer sessions.”

Kerby said LeTourneau focused on ways to better the fire service and to train firefighters.

“Not only did we lose a dedicated firefighter, but Matt was also a teacher and mentor, passing his knowledge and experience to the current and next generation of firefighters,” Kerber said. “He saw it as his duty to make sure that those serving with him and following him in the service were better trained and educated so they would go home after each call. His legacy will be in lives not lost and injuries avoided, both firefighter and civilian (and) saved by those who he spent countless hours training to be the best firefighters they could be.”

LeTourneau became trapped during a structural collapse while battling a fire in a North Philadelphia row home on Saturday morning, Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said. Firefighters extricated him 30 minutes later and he was rushed to Temple University Hospital, where he died.

Two other Philadelphia firefighters were injured as well as a civilian from a neighboring home, and a civilian from the home had perished, according to Thiel. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

LeTourneau was promoted to lieutenant in 2015 with the Philadelphia Fire Department Engine 45/ Platoon A. He served with the Philadelphia Fire Department for 11 years, his dream job. 

Pictured is the front page of the Delaware County Daily Times on Monday, honoring fallen firefighter Lt. Matthew LeTourneau who died in the line of duty on Jan. 6, 2018. 

“From the first day he walked into Springfield (Fire Company), he knew he wanted to be a fireman,” said Springfield firefighter Scott Pomante. “He learned as much as he could as quick as he could. He kept training and he preached to people to never stop training. You can never learn too much in the fire service. Matt preached that you should keep training and that you always have more to learn.”

Springfield firefighter Pat Gallagher said LeTourneau was “always pushing people to learn and then teach. He played hard and he worked hard.”

“Professionally he was a master at his craft,” Gallagher said. “You can never have enough training. He was always looking to train and he would train others at the station.”

He described LeTourneau as a caring, supportive person who will be missed by so many agencies across Pennsylvania because of how he impacted others.

“When that alarm sounds, he’s going to keep a lot of people safe,” Gallagher said about LeTourneau being a guardian angel. “Every time we put that gear on, there’s no guarantee that we’re coming back. He led the fight. There should be more people like him, we would be better for it.”

J.J. Bonsall, a member of the Philadelphia Fire Department and Springfield volunteer firefighter, said LeTourneau enjoyed training and he would help firefighters with equipment and skills because he was passionate about “always bettering the fire service.”

“No matter how long it took, he was going to help you learn and keep doing it until you understood. He loved training. It didn’t matter what time of day it was or what the weather was like,” Bonsall said. “It was the most joyous moment for him because someone wanted to learn. He loved to teach and pass on knowledge to newer members.”

He added that LeTourneau enjoyed being involved, whether it was helping firefighters practice pulling a hoseline and repacking it, or helping the company with decisions about replacing apparatus.

“We took a big loss in the fire service,” Bonsall said of LeTourneau’s tragic death. “He was one of the greatest firefighters.”

Timothy Boyce, director of Delaware County’s Department of Emergency Services, said LeTourneau served as a leader by training people in emergency services and he was “one of the best-trained officers we have.

“Matt was a leader in the community and his last act was leading firefighters in to save someone else,” Boyce said. “I’m proud of him.”

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