The Frederick County, Maryland, firefighter who died in the line of duty after battling a house fire last week was remembered as a fierce family man, loyal friend and prankster, mentor and hero in a solemn and humor-tinged ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
Joshua Laird, 46, who was posthumously promoted to the rank of battalion chief, died fighting a two-alarm house fire in Ijamsville on Aug. 11.
Laird’s service took place at Mount St. Mary’s University’s PNC Sports Complex in Emmitsburg, Maryland, that drew a large crowd of masked mourners, many in the black dress uniforms of firefighters from fire departments across Maryland.
“It was obvious that Josh took immense pride in his job. And everyone says that he was the kind of guy that you wanted to be gearing up with,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who delivered remarks at the service.
In a broken voice marked by emotion, Hogan recounted Laird’s bravery in his final act of service.
“Last Wednesday, when that final fateful call came in, Josh was on Engine 251, which was the first unit to arrive on the scene,” Hogan said. “The last words spoken on his portable radio in his trademark calm were, ‘Tell my family I love them.’ That message was heard loud and clear not just by his family, but by a town, county, state, and even an entire region by thousands of people.”
The department said Laird was one of several firefighters who responded to the burning house on Ball Road in Ijamsville when he fell through the first floor into the house’s basement. After he was rescued, he was flown to MedStar hospital, where he died from his injuries.
Laird was survived by his wife Sara, the chief technology officer of Mount St. Mary’s, and two daughters, Erin and Maddie, both of whom shared heartfelt and, at times, humorous remembrances.
“I never expected for this to happen, or for me to be here at age 14. I wanted to do this sometime in my 60s,” his daughter, Erin, said.
She shared stories of his quirky passions and practical jokes. “My dad was very weird,” she said.
Vincent Parish, fellow firefighter and best friend, shared humorous stories of Laird’s eclectic hobbies, which included rock collecting, coin collecting and being an amateur ghost hunter and alien investigator. His wide range of musical interests spanned AC/DC to Lady Gaga, Parish said.
“If I could make a list of all the things about Josh, we would be here all day,” Parish said. “He was simply put a one of a kind, limited edition. The one trait that I think is most important is that Josh was always 100% himself. At all times, no matter what.”
The eulogy was delivered by Frederick County Fire Chief Tom Coe.
“Battalion Chief Josh Laird reported to work on Wednesday, Aug. 11 with the singular goal he had when he joined the fire service nearly 30 years ago to help people in their time of need. And at 4:48 that day when his final call came in, he responded calmly, courageously and without hesitation,” Coe said.
Laird, who was a 21-year veteran of the Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services, served in a number of companies, most recently with Green Valley Fire Station 25. He began his firefighting career at 16 in his home state of Pennsylvania and in the early 1990s was the youngest certified paramedic in the state, Coe said in the eulogy.
The service Tuesday was the culmination of a series of events to honor Laird, which included a procession from D.C. to Frederick County, and from Maryland to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and Fairfield, Pennsylvania, Laird’s hometown.
Pastor Brenda Walter of the Fairfield Mennonite Church that Laird attended, described Laird as a “fierce family man,” and recounted how, last summer, Laird confronted a “big dude” on a motorcycle who was disrupting weekly vigils the church held after the death of George Floyd.
“These are my people. This is my church,” she said Laird told the disrupter.
Later, she said Laird came to apologize for getting confrontational. “‘I know we’re a peace church and all, but I just couldn’t help it,'” she said Laird told her. “And my response to Josh,” she recalled: “Are you kidding me? You were freaking awesome.”