Show of unity for fallen Philly firefighter LeTourneau

A viewing at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul is held Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, as fellow firefighters wait in line to pay their respects to Philadelphia Fire Department Lt. Matthew LeTourneau, 42, who died in a rowhouse fire last Saturday. LeTourneau was trapped under debris while battling the fire in North Philadelphia.

Boston Firefighter Daniel MacAuley and four of his colleagues drove eight hours — some making the lengthy road trip after completing an overnight shift — to pay their respects to fallen Philadelphia Fire Lt. Matthew LeTourneau at a viewing Thursday evening at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

MacAuley, attired in white gloves and a dress uniform as he waited in a line that wrapped around the block, said Philadelphia firefighters have shown unflagging support for Boston. “It’s important for us to show the exact same support.”

Shawn Duffy, a firefighter from Buffalo, N.Y., said it was a simple matter of solidarity: “We’re all one family, no matter what city you’re from.”

They all came by the hundreds and more to honor LeTourneau, who died after being trapped under debris and rubble while battling a North Philadelphia rowhouse blaze last Saturday.

A second viewing will be held Friday from 9 to 11 a.m., followed immediately by a Funeral Mass. LeTourneau will be buried at SS. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Marple Township, Delaware County.

“It touches home for all of us,” said William Perez, vice president of Camden Fire Fighters Local 788, who was joined for the Thursday viewing by about 30 other Camden firefighters. “We want to show unity. We want to show brotherhood.”

Amid the throng of uniforms, Jacqueline Sautter stood out in her ordinary winter jacket and backpack. She came to the viewing from her job as a researcher at Temple University’s dentistry school.

“It’s important to pay your respects to the people who put their lives on the line,” said Sautter, 48, of Center City.

Nearby along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Philadelphia Second Alarmers, a volunteer group that provides relief and assistance at incident scenes to firefighters, had set up its truck and was serving coffee, soft pretzels, and Tastykakes to vigil attendees. LeTourneau had been a volunteer for seven years.

“Matt just had a heart that was unbelievably big,” said Gregory Masi, chief of the Second Alarmers.

The Second Alarmers worked the scene the morning LeTourneau died.

“It was very hard knowing Matt was inside,” Masi said. “I’m going to miss him dearly.”

From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, streets near the cathedral are expected to be closed or congested. The funeral cortege is expected to leave about 1:30 p.m., and parts of Vine Street, the Vine Street Expressway, and area highways are expected to be blocked for the procession.

Camera icon FACEBOOK
Philadelphia Fire Lt. Matthew LeTourneau

LeTourneau, 42, was battling a two-alarm blaze that engulfed a North Philadelphia rowhouse at 2240 N. Colorado St. He was pronounced dead a few hours after at Temple University Hospital.

A man who lived in the rowhouse, Delgera Lane, 61, also died. Firefighters who responded to the 8:51 a.m. Saturday call found his body by the front door. During firefighting operations, the second floor of the structure collapsed, trapping LeTourneau. It took firefighters and paramedics about 30 minutes to get him out.

On the narrow residential block of Colorado, near 17th Street and Susquehanna Avenue, firefighters were met with black smoke and orange flames. Firefighting conditions were extremely difficult given the freezing temperatures, icy ground and snow-caked sidewalks. The cause of the fire remained under investigation Thursday.

LeTourneau, an 11-year veteran of the Fire Department, was assigned to Engine 45 on 26th Street near York Street in North Philadelphia. Ed Marks, president of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union representing firefighters and paramedics in Philadelphia, said that Saturday was to be LeTourneau’s last day at Engine 45. As part of a regular rotation, LeTourneau was to be transferred to Engine 44 in Mantua on his next working day.

LeTourneau dreamed of being a firefighter since he was a young child. He grew up and lived in Springfield, Delaware County. At age 16, he began volunteering with the Springfield Fire Company, where he was considered a lifetime member.

LeTourneau joined the Philadelphia Fire Department in 2007 and was promoted to lieutenant in 2015. Before Engine 45, he had also served with Engine 43 in Center City, Engine 57 in West Philadelphia, and Ladder 77 – “the Pope’s detail” during the World Meeting of Families in 2015. He also taught fire safety as an instructor in Delaware County and other communities.

According to an obituary from the O’Leary Funeral Home in Springfield, LeTourneau is survived by his mother, Janice; a sister; two brothers; and nieces and nephews.