Owego, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Volunteer firefighters are givers. They give their time, their effort, their sleep. Owego Capt. Matthew Porcari gave his life to serve his community.
On a chilled but sun-filled Sunday, the 34-year-old Porcari was laid to rest; his family, brothers and sisters of the fire services and hundreds of others by his side for a final call.
Porcari's last act as a firefighter came Monday night, when he and Lt. Daniel Gavin entered a burning home at 871 Chamberlain Road in Newark Valley. The raging fire weakened the floor beneath the two-man team to the point of collapse.
Porcari fell to the home's basement. Gavin managed to escape by pulling himself out. Burned, he maintained his position, and helped other firefighters pull Porcari from the inferno. The husband and father of two was pronounced dead a short time later at a local hospital.
Investigators late last week ruled the fire accidental; the result of an overloaded power strip in a shed 10 feet away from the home where three rabbits perished. High winds that night left the home and a nearby camper and pick-up truck part of the charred rubble.
Officials said Porcari was familiar with the home, having before been called to Chamberlain Road. His experience left little doubt but to allow him to do his job.
His death drew attention from across the state and beyond. Hundreds of firefighters showed up Sunday in Owego to pay their respects to Porcari, and to an occupation that is sometimes unyielding in its cost.
"The volunteer fire services and actually the fire services in general are a big brotherhood no matter where you go, brotherhood, sisterhood," said Jeff Burkhart, a firefighter from Oriskany. "Regardless of where you are, in New York State or across the nation, a tragedy like this happens, and the first and foremost thing that you think about doing is coming out and supporting your fellow brothers and sisters."
There's brotherhood. And then there's fatherhood.
Porcari's daughter penned a note to her late dad, a man she described more than once as a "hero." Pastor Rob Campbell from Owego's New Life West Church shared it with mourners Sunday.
"My favorite memory with me and my daddy is when I went fishing with him for the first time and I got a (sic) sonny. I was so happy," she wrote. "He was my hero for stopping a lot of fires. If he did not go then they would spread and cause a lot of damage. He loved the fire company very much. I remember when he took my brother and I to the fire house for the Christmas party."
Campbell echoed her feelings of gratitude.
"By our presence here today, Matt has touched each of our lives," Campbell said. "We gather to both celebrate and mourn the impact of this wonderful life.
"To all of us in the greater community, he was a light shining in the darkness."
Sunday's procession drew out the best communities have to offer to perform the worst kind of tradition: The steps, the salutes, the gallantry, the heartbreak.
Trucks from nearly 80 departments lined Sheldon Guile Boulevard, some of them hailing from as far as California.
Fire engines and other apparatus revved, and their lights flicked to life as Porcari's casket ambled through the street.
Firefighters say Sunday was a time to show the Porcari family they won't have to mourn alone.
When the caravan made its way to the end of the street, it passed under an American flag, hung between the ladders of two engines united and strong, flapping in the winter breeze, but representing a spirit unflappable.