All of Boston seemed to pause on Wednesday, to honor a fallen hero, Lt. Edward Walsh, 43, one of the firefighters who died last week in a 9-alarm inferno in the city’s historic Back Bay neighborhood.
Hundreds of bagpipes and drummers led the grim procession through the streets to St Patrick’s church in nearby Watertown. Thousands of fire fighters and first responders, in blue dress uniforms, many from across the country, saluted along the route. Michael Walsh carried his brother’s helmet. Engine 33, from Lt. Walsh’s fire house, bore the coffin draped in a fire department flag.
Boston will pause once again on Thursday to honor Walsh’s fallen colleague, firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, who also died that tragic day.
These are very somber days in a city where firefighting is a proud and noble profession — generations of families serve. Boston had not lost two firefighters in the line of duty since 2007. Adding to the emotion, Walsh and Kennedy died just a short distance from the finish line of the Boston Marathon, where 2 bombs exploded last year, April 15th, killing three and wounding hundreds. The firefighters grieving today were among the first on that scene; their firehouse sits along the route. The anniversary and all it involves is fast approaching. Firefighter Kennedy, who responded to the bombing, had been training to run the race this year.
Last Wednesday, Walsh and Kennedy were among the first to confront what’s been called one of the worst fires in Boston. Deputy Chief Joe Finn said he’d never seen a fire “create such havoc in such a short period of time,” in 30 years. The blaze engulfed an apartment building on a very stormy afternoon. Winds gusting off the nearby Charles River at up to 50 miles per hour fanned the flames. Walsh and Kennedy led the charge into the building’s basement where the fire apparently started and was most intense. A number of residents were rescued from the building’s upper floors. There was an explosion, a Mayday call. Several firefighters were trapped. It would take Walsh’s “brothers” almost 5 hours to recover his body while fighting the fire that claimed his life.
“We stand in awe of what he did last week,” said Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, as he tried to comfort the Walsh family at the funeral. “Let us be inspired by his example, and let us try to bring his spirit of service to our communities,” the mayor added. Numerous dignitaries attended, including Governor Deval Patrick and His Eminence, Cardinal Sean O’Malley.
Lt Walsh was remembered as man who had firefighting in his blood. His father was a firefighter. Several uncles, cousins and a brother-in-law have or continue to serve.
“Most importantly, he was a husband and a father,” said Kathy Malone, fighting to compose herself, as she spoke about her “little brother.” Walsh and his wife Kristen have two boys and a girl all under age ten. “I’ve never seen him happier than when he spent time with them,” Malone added.
"He lived more in 43 years than many of us will do in 80.”
She reminisced about her brother, the avid baseball player and golfer, his tall and commanding 6-foot-4-inch presence and the fact that he’d tried his hand working in finance before becoming a firefighter some 9 years ago. “He had a calling to help others,” Malone said, explaining why her brother couldn't resist what was in many ways a family business. Reflecting on his life, she said, “If the time keeper of life kept track, he may have noticed that this man in fact has lived a full life. He lived more in 43 years than many of us will do in 80.”
Closing the ceremony, Cardinal O’Malley said, “His life was a great success and we are grateful for it.”
Just a few miles away, mourners will gather to pay their respects to firefighter Kennedy at a wake. His funeral service follows on Thursday, the events staggered to allow thousands of mourners the opportunity to honor each man individually. Kennedy was single, a Marine sergeant and Iraq war veteran before joining the Boston fire department 6 years ago. Both Walsh and Kennedy will be posthumously awarded Medals of Valor, the highest honor a firefighter can earn.