Just after midnight Wednesday, as temperatures slipped toward 18 degrees, Jason Menard and the crew of Worcester Ladder Co. 5, Group 2, rescued a woman and her baby from the top floor of a burning triple-decker on Stockholm Street.

Menard turned back to help a rookie firefighter find the stairs out of the building. He then assisted another firefighter who was trapped. They were to be their last actions upon this earth.

The Worcester fire lieutenant became trapped as flames and chaos enveloped the upper floor. Fellow firefighters, including another ladder company, worked in vain to save him. And a city whose public service has become synonymous with loss let go of yet another. Menard was the ninth Worcester firefighter to die in the line of duty in the past 20 years.

Preparations were already underway in the city to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Dec. 6, 1999, warehouse fire that killed six firefighters, now known as the “Worcester 6.” City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. commented later Wednesday, “To have this cruel loss early this morning is almost more than one city can bear.”

The city’s loss is one thing. A family’s is another.

Menard, 39, and his wife, Tina, had been planning take their three young children to Disney World after his shift ended that day.

There is no consolation for Menard’s fellow firefighters and certainly not for his family. But, to be sure, as Lt. Gov. Karen Polito said later, he died “a hero to his last breath.”

The rest of us look to Worcester, meanwhile, and try to catch ours.

We needed no reminder of the perils faced by firefighters and first responders of the inherent dangers of their work, or of the greater calling guiding those in their service. Menard’s death sadly has given us all of those things.

He saved lives and protected his city. His bravery and selflessness to the end are a legacy and an inspiration.

Rest in peace, Lt. Menard.

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