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Fallen N.Y. firefighter eulogized as a hero

NEW YORK, N.Y. (Catholic New York) - Thousands of firefighters from New York City and beyond gathered at a Staten Island church last week to bid farewell to one of their own, Lt. John H. Martinson — known to his firehouse buddies as “Johnny Nice Guy.”

With Martinson’s pregnant wife, Jessica, and his mother, Iris, listening at a funeral service Jan. 8 at St. Clare’s Church, the commanding officer of his Flatbush fire company eulogized him as “a dedicated fireman” whom others “were willing to follow.”

“We’re going to miss him dearly,” said Capt. Thomas Reilly in remarks that were carried by loudspeakers to the throngs outside the Eltingville church.

Martinson, the 40-year-old father of a 22-month old son, died fighting a smoky, fast-moving fire that was started accidentally by a 6-year-old boy in a Brooklyn high-rise Jan. 3.

He is believed to have stayed inside the burning 14th floor apartment because he wanted to make sure the four other firefighters with him had escaped.

‘Forfeited his own life,’ saved 1,000 others

“In the best tradition of the world’s greatest fire department, he led from the frontŠand when the men in his command were forced to fall back, he ensured that each and every one of them went out first and escaped safely,” said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who was one of several speakers offering a tribute at the ecumenical service (Martinson was Lutheran and his wife is Catholic).

He said Martinson “forfeited his own life” to save his men, as well as saving the lives of some 1,000 other people in the Crown Heights apartment building.

Addressing Martinson’s widow, Jessica — who is pregnant with the couple’s second child — the mayor said that when her children ask about their father she should tell them that “the people of New York feel the same way about him that you do: Lieutenant John Martinson was a hero.”

Martinson’s brother Steven also spoke, on behalf of his mother and his sister, Lori.

Many losses dating to 9/11

Martinson was a firefighter for 14 years, after four years as a city police officer. His service followed a family tradition — his father was a firefighter for 34 years.

Msgr. Joseph P. Murphy, the pastor of St. Clare’s, expressed the condolences offered by Cardinal Egan, who was in Rome and unable to attend the funeral.

Bishop Stephen P. Bouman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also sent a message to the service.

Msgr. Murphy, in his homily, noted that Staten Island, which is home to many firefighters, has suffered many losses among them in recent years. St. Clare’s, in particular, has been hit hard, losing 11 firefighters from the parish on 9/11, when 343 department members died.

After the service, with her son John Patrick at her side, Jessica Martin wept as bagpipers played “Taps.”


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of Catholic New York (, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York,



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