By Mike Mavredakis
NORTH HAVEN, Conn. — North Haven Firefighter Matthias Wirtz died doing what he wanted to do — help those in need.
Wirtz, 46, died of natural causes on Dec. 26 after responding to a morning fire on Quinnipiac Avenue in North Haven. He last called over the radio at 1:25 a.m. that morning while working the engine water line to the fire, according to Fire Chief Paul Januszewski, who listened to the radio recordings from the fire after his death. Januszewski said he could tell that Wirtz was struggling when he listened back to it. Six minutes later, Wirtz called in a mayday and collapsed.
Wirtz was transported to Yale New Haven Hospital and was later pronounced dead. It was determined his death was considered natural and due to a number of causes, including heart disease, by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office last week.
“He was putting everybody else above himself, just what he has done his entire life,” Januszewski said. “He would not want to be called a hero, I can tell you that. But I don’t know what else to call it at this point. Because he made sure that the job was getting done and at some point in time we’d get around to him. For me, that makes Matt a hero.”
His funeral service was held Tuesday morning at St. Barnabus Church on Washington Street. Hundreds of people, including his at-home and at-work families, were in attendance. The entire North Haven Fire Department was able to attend due to the help of mutual aid partners, who have taken over coverage of the town until 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Januszewski said.
A wooden box with his name on it, his firefighter helmet and a United States flag were placed on altars at the head of the church and his snare drum that he played in the New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drums was placed on the floor in front.
Church hymns and prayers read by loved ones were woven through the service before three speakers, childhood friend Jurgen Weber, North Haven Professional Firefighters Association Local 2987 President Tom Haggerty and Januszewski.
“Matt died while doing what he loved the most, helping people and being there for his firefighter brothers and lifelong friends,” Jurgen said.
Wirtz spent 22 years with the department after beginning his firefighting career as a volunteer with North Haven’s North East Volunteer fire company No. 4. in 1996. He responded to the 9/11 attacks in New York City in 2001 and received several letters of recognition for his work during his time with the department, the department said. He also taught the fire program at Gateway Community College and worked security at the Hopkins School in New Haven, Jurgen said.
Januszewski said he was more than willing to help cover overtime shifts and had a work ethic “that was something that you just can’t define.”
He was also a member of the New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drums, the Knights of Columbus and Meriden Turner Society. He spoke fluent German and was a fan of soccer club F.C. Köln, located in Cologne, Germany. He was also a fan of the Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins and Washington Commanders, Jurgen said.
An entombment with full departmental honors at All Saints Mausoleum was scheduled following the service.