Volunteer firefighter who died shortly after helping others remembered as a hero

Loved ones mourning the loss of a nurse, volunteer firefighter and veteran are receiving a flood of well-wishes days after he died on the job in Manitoba’s Interlake region.

Fisher Fire Department volunteer firefighter Jason Butchart, 54, had just left a crash scene on Wednesday, where he helped provide medical care and co-ordinate an emergency response, when he was involved in an incident himself and died.

“Anyone saying dad is a hero and saved a lot of lives is honestly nothing we haven’t heard, which is really nice to even think about,” said Reece Butchart, 23, one of his three children. “He was very much the one person that would run toward the danger.”

Known as “Jay” to many, he worked at various times as an emergency, pediatric, flight and trauma nurse as well as serving in the Armed Forces.

As a nurse, Jay split his weeks between a Winnipeg clinic and at Percy E. Moore Hospital in Hodgson, about 190 kilometres north of Winnipeg, in a community made up of Peguis, Fisher River and Kinonjeoshtegon First Nations.

As an Armed Forces veteran and nurse, Jay was known as a helper much of his life — which is what he was doing until moments before he died last week.

Vehicle accident call

He was doing a volunteer firefighter shift in the rural municipality of Fisher on May 10 when a call came in to the station about a vehicle accident on Highway 68 at Road 4W, according to a news release from the RM on Friday.

Butchart “put his expertise to work” at the scene, where there were several people with injuries, including a 10-month-old baby, the municipality said.

Kaitlyn Sokolosky was involved in the crash that Butchart responded to before he died. Her 10-month-old baby stopped breathing and she couldn’t find his pulse following the incident.

She performed CPR on her child before first responders arrived.

“Jason was the first one to make it to me,” she told CBC. “If it wasn’t for him, honestly, I would have been panicking.”

Sokolosky’s child was airlifted to hospital and is now recovering at home. She said it hurt to learn that Butchart died following the crash.

“I might have not known him personally, but getting to know him … and how caring he was, I felt like I did know him. He was really nice and really sweet.”

A volunteer firefighter dressed in firefighting gear is scene in a fire department garage.
Jason Butchart was as a volunteer firefighter for the Fisher Fire Department and worked as a nurse at Percy E. Moore Hospital in Hodgson. (Submitted by Breigh Butchart)

After emergency medical services and STARS air ambulance staff arrived and took over, Butchart left.

Then a call came in not far from the original accident, this time involving reports of a vehicle in a ditch off Highway 17, north of Fisher.

Butchart’s peers arrived to find him in the vehicle in the ditch, the municipality said. They rushed him to hospital but he died.

Flags half-mast

“Although Jay was a member for only two years, he was an integral part of the Fisher Fire Department team,” the municipality said in a statement.

Butchart’s family told CBC News he died after a “medical event” and they are awaiting further information from the hospital to determine an official cause of death.

The family received an outpouring of supportive messages “saying what a hero he was,” said Jay’s other son Ryland, twin brother to Reece.

“It’s been amazing, but at the same time of course we wish he was here,” said Mary Butchart, 79, Jay’s mother. 

She said a number of hospitals and fire halls where her son worked have reached out to say they’ve lowered flags to half-mast in honour of Jay.

“We didn’t know we had a hero in the family,” said Jay’s father Ken Butchart. 

Mary and Ken, 84, immigrated to Canada from England in the 1960s. Ken said his son, like him, was drawn to music at a young age and played guitar and bagpipes.

Two people hold up photos of their son, who is seen holding his grandson.
Ken Butchart, left, and wife Mary Butchart hold up photos of their son Jason Butchart with his grandson. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

He had played bagpipes this year at a funeral for an elder on Peguis and did the same at a funeral for a municipal fire chief, said Ken.

Jay even played bagpipes as part of a ceremony welcoming Queen Elizabeth II during one of her visits to Ottawa. He told family she doubled back to him and remarked on his good playing.

“I’m a little bit biased, but he’s the best ‘piper in the world,'” said Ken. “So proud of him.”

Jay’s daughter Breigh-Haven Butchart, 27, said her “dad was a force.”

“Never met someone so determined,” she said. “Whether it was for work, with his children, his grandson, strangers, he was always kind of a humble hero.”

She believes her father was drawn to things that challenged him, like medicine. Her father’s dedication to helping people as a nurse was a mainstay of her upbringing.

A woman with long blondish hair in a green dress smiles while speaking with a journalist in an interview.
Breigh-Haven Butchart says her father was a dedicated father and nurse whose left a positive impact on many. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“When my parents had me he was finishing up his nursing in school, so there’s pictures of me laying on his chest with him studying his textbook,” said Breigh-Haven.

Among numerous other deliveries over the years as a nurse, Jay even had a hand in delivering his daughter.

She looked liked “the smallest little bean” when she was born, he later told her, and Jay would put the “Mr. Bean” television show on “because it was the only thing that would soothe me.”

“I ended up being stuck with the name Bean,” Breigh-Haven says with a laugh.

Jay earned a nickname of his own: Patch, or Patches, a reference to American physician, comedian and clown Dr. Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, who was played by actor Rob Williams in the film Patch Adams.

“He was the funny, fun nurse that made everything feel OK,” said Ryland.

Breigh-Haven said her father loved her and her brothers and always told them all he was proud of them. She may follow in his footsteps one day.

Ryland also feels inspired to pursue paramedic medicine.

“The way he helped everyone, I want to do that … it’s so noble,” said Ryland.