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Hundreds pay respects to North Haven firefighter during funeral service

<i>WFSB</i><br/>Hundreds of firefighters from across Connecticut and neighboring states gathered to pay tribute to Matthias Wirtz.
Hundreds of firefighters from across Connecticut and neighboring states gathered to pay tribute to Matthias Wirtz.

By Audrey Russo, Rob Polansky and Matt McFarland

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    NORTH HAVEN, Connecticut (WFSB) — Hundreds of firefighters from across Connecticut and neighboring states gathered to pay tribute to Matthias Wirtz.

The North Haven firefighter died while fighting a fire the morning after Christmas.

A procession got underway shortly after 10:40 a.m.

His funeral began at 11 a.m. at St. Barnabas Church, and during it the community remembered the firefighter who had been on the job for 22 years.

North Haven’s fire chief issued a statement ahead of the funeral.

Throughout the day today, myself or any other Chief Officer of the North Haven Fire Department will not be available for comments or interviews. Our focus today will be on the membership and the family of our fallen brother, FF Matthias Wirtz. Today will be about reflecting on the life of FF Wirtz and his dedication to the fire department. For all of us, this last week has been challenging and we’re thankful for all of the support from neighboring fire departments, police departments and the North Haven community. Today as a department we will grieve together, tomorrow we will start the healing process and in the future we’ll be stronger together. -Chief Paul Januszewski, North Haven Fire Department

Firefighters from New York City and even outside of Boston attended, along with departments from all over Connecticut.

They all honored a man who died on the job, a job he loved, while supporting his loved ones, letting them know they are not alone during this difficult time.

A pipes and drums band led the procession down Washington Avenue Tuesday morning, followed by North Haven’s Engine 9 and its crew members.

That’s the engine firefighter Wirtz drove to the fire last Monday morning.

He helped lay out a hose and was ready to supply water when he collapsed from a cardiac event, officials said.

Tuesday morning, firefighters gathered to pay their respects, while supporting Wirtz’s family.

Fellow firefighters carried his cremated remains into the church, along with his helmet, and the snare drum he played with the New Haven County Pipes and Drums Band.

Wirtz, who began as a volunteer firefighter in the 90s, eventually joined North Haven’s department full time, spending the last 22 years here and even responding to Ground Zero following 9/11.

Those who spoke of him described him as a dedicated firefighter with an infectious personality, a raspy voice, big hands, and big hugs. They said he was always there to lend a hand and help those around him, even on the day he died.

Going back and listening to the radio call from the morning of the fire, North Haven’s fire chief said Wirtz’s tone was different, that something was off and that he probably was hurting, but Wirtz didn’t say anything to anyone on the scene. He was focused on doing his job and helping the firefighters inside the burning house.

“He would not want me to call him a hero, but I don’t know what else to call him at this point, because he made sure that the job was getting done and that some point we’d get around to him. For me, that makes Matt a hero,” said North Haven Fire Chief Paul Januszewski.

Wirtz was honored with full “line of duty” honors.

“It’s important for us on the healing side to know somebody has your back, somebody is going to protect your family if someone is making the supreme sacrifice,” said Scott Bisson, North Haven deputy fire chief.

North Haven Public Schools were closed on Tuesday. The high school was used as a staging area for mourners.

School buses brought mourners to and from the service, and the school resource officers were on hand to offer support.

Calling hours were held on Monday.

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