Monday, longtime volunteer firefighter and Lawrence + Memorial Hospital paramedic John Fratus, who was named Waterford’s Citizen of the Year earlier this year, died at the age of 67.
The death of Fratus, who trained nearly every firefighter in town and helped countless residents in times of need, will create a void “that will never be filled,” Oswegatchie Fire Chief Mark Schenking said. He volunteered so much and his impact was so profound that his death will change the Waterford community, First Selectman Dan Steward said.
“It is very sad. He was a very competent and qualified individual who did many, many things for this community,” Steward said. “His loss will mean a significant change to how we view our community.”
Patch interviewed person after person Monday about Fratus, and each one had a difficult time trying to explain Fratus’ impact in words. Patch spent an hour at Oswegatchie Fire House with some of Fratus’ closest friends, and in the middle Schenking worried that despite the heavy praise, it still wasn’t enough.
“I don’t know if we can put this in words,” Schenking said. “This is massive. This creates a void that will never be filled.”
The Life Story
Fratus grew up in Waterford, and at age 16 joined the Oswegatchie Fire House in 1961. For the 50 years that followed, nobody went on more medical calls than Fratus, as Steward recalled stories of Fratus being the one showing up at his house at 2 a.m. to help out his aging mother.
Fratus got a job as a mailman in Waterford and from 1973 to 1978 was the chief of Oswegatchie Fire House. He also became an EMT instructor, and probably trained 80 percent of the current firefighters from Waterford and the surrounding towns, according to friend and fellow Oswegatchie firefighter Mark Karasevicz.
“We would get other instructors, and the guys would say, ‘We want John’,” Karasevicz said. “They really loved him. He was the best.”
At one point, Fratus’ dedication found him in the newspaper. An article from 1978 in The Day detailed how Fratus was disciplined for leaving his postman job after a house caught fire in Waterford and he went to the scene because he knew the woman who lived there was in a wheel chair.
Luckily, the woman was not home, but Fratus was suspended from the post office. He fought it, and wound up getting his suspension overturned.
“That was him, he would do anything for anybody at any time,” former Oswegatchie firefighter and friend Bud Bowes said. “His whole life was service. Nobody was more dedicated than John.”
Fratus retired as a mail carrier in 2000. He began working part-time as paramedic with L+M in 1990 and continued that job after his retirement from the post office. He still continued to go on volunteer calls as well until this year, Schenking said.
Around Christmas of 2011, Fratus was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. That eventually stopped him from working and going on ambulance calls, but he never let anyone know about the pain he was going through, Karasevicz said.
“I think John kept all of that inside,” Karasevicz said. “He was not the type to draw attention to himself. I think he was in more pain and things were bothering him more than we ever knew about.”
Fratus was married to his wife Ellen for half-a-century. He had three children and more grandchildren, to whom he was equally dedicated, Bowes said.
Friends described Fratus as a man who never lost his cool, who never let the pressure get to him. When Fratus would go on a medical call, no matter how bad it was, everyone knew it would go “smooth,” Schenking said.
“When you knew he was on a call, it just put you at ease,” Schenking said. “Everything went smooth when John was on a call. He was really good at what he did.”
In his private life, he enjoyed driving motorcycles and playing pool, Bowes said. He never lost his temper, hated receiving the glory and was always the “champion of the underdog,” Bowes said.
“He really was the champion of the underdog,” Bowes said. “If anybody was picked on or bullied or just weaker in some way, John would stand up for that person and just not let it happen. That’s just how he was, he always stood up for those people.”
Monday, Waterford Patch reported his passing on its Facebook page. Person after person wrote in, saying how Fratus touched their lives and how he was such a modest, professional man.
“John was such a great guy,” Kim Locklear-Hodges wrote on Waterford Patch’s Facebook page, in a comment that was typical of many others. “When my dad was in the last year of his life we seemed to live at the ER. John was usually on duty during the 9-1-1 calls. Not only did he treat my dad with dignity and respect he would always look for us on his next run to make sure everything was ok. The extra care he took meant the world to me.”