Firefighter honored for saving a life
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

PEPPERELL — A
month before he had
to do it for real, Burlington
firefighter and 13-year
First Street, Pepperell,
resident Donald MacDonald
trained in recovery
of a victim from a burning
house.

At 2:30 a.m. New Year’s
Day 2005, his department
was called to a fully
involved Burlington
home. They were urged
to hurry more than usual
by police officers at
the scene who were forced
to back away because
the building was a sheet
of flame and smoke —
and there was someone
inside.

Using a thermal camera,
virtually blind because
of the smoke, and staying
low because of intense
heat, MacDonald found
the 89-year-old occupant
and got him out.

Now, MacDonald and 10
other firefighters from
four communities received
the meritorious 2005
Firefighter-of-the-Year
award from Gov. Mitt
Romney and Lt. Gov.
Kerry Healey in a Fanueil
Hall ceremony.

A former Burlington
Department of Public
Works employee and part-time
snow-plow operator in
Pepperell, MacDonald
has been a full-time
firefighter for 15 years
and wouldn’t have
any other job.

“It’s the
best job in the world,”
he said. “You
can give and give while
receiving so much satisfaction.”

Married to Patricia
MacDonald for 20 years,
the couple has three
children; Shannon, 19
and a Bentley College
student, Brianna, 16,
and Dennis, 13.

An active duty Marine
from 1975 to 1978, MacDonald
comes from a family
of 11, eight of them
brothers. Five of the
boys served in the Marine
Corps, one in the Army,
one in the Air Force,
and a sister and one
other brother are Navy
veterans. A twin brother
died on a previous New
Year’s Day.

MacDonald had switched
shifts with another
firefighter when the
call came in that night.

It had been extremely
hot inside the burning
house. Firefighters
could see only inches
in front of them and,
as firefighters everywhere
know, they had to feel
their way through the
smoke. The occupant
was found on the first
floor in a rear bedroom.

“I was front nozzle
(first man in) and the
lieutenant was behind
me,” MacDonald
said.

He led Lts.. Steven
McLean, Peter McAnespie,
and firefighter Frederick
Williams inside.

“We were worried
about flash-over (a
sudden rush of fire
across a room caused
by built-up heat),”
he said. “We found
some propane tanks on
fire and whistling like
crazy.

“A power line
fell over a hose,”
he added. “We
didn’t know if
it was live. The house
was making unbelievable
cracking and squealing
noises. Once we got
him out, we re-grouped
and attacked the fire.

“I thought I was
lost. Being first on
the bus I was last off
it,” he said,
looking straight ahead
at nothing in particular.
Then he added, “We
were just doing our
job that day.”

Patricia MacDonald said
the ceremony in Boston
was unbelievable in
its sincerity and emotion.

“I was so proud,”
she said when her husband
had momentarily left
the room. “He
is very compassionate.

She explained that her
father was a World War
II Marine veteran who
lost a leg to a land
mine. Three weeks ago,
he died.

“We had moved
him here, which is why
we expanded the house,”
she said. “Donald
took care of him more
like a real son than
a son-in-law.”

“My dad taught
me to appreciate what
we have now,”
MacDonald said when
he returned.

“And humility,
which is what I find
on the job. It humbles
you. One day you hold
the hand of a dying
child and the next help
someone give birth.
It evens out.”