BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — A sea of blue filled a Peabody funeral home last night as firefighters turned out in dress uniforms for the wake of a Salem firefighter who died last week.
Kevin O’Boyle, 31, an Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, worked in Salem for five years before leaving this summer to join the Cambridge Fire Department, where he was training to be a paramedic.
No information was released about how O'Boyle died.
Salem firefighters got the tragic news last Thursday after returning from battling a three-alarm fire in Salem Willows. The death hit hard in a department where the young firefighter had made many friends.
“He had no fear,” said Richard Thomas, president of the Salem Firefighters Union. “You would think he was 10 feet tall.”
In 2008, after getting out of the state fire academy, O’Boyle worked two fires on the same day, one at a laundry on Boston Street and another at an apartment building.
“There were people unaccounted for (on the third floor),” said Deputy Brian Harrington. “He was part of the search team.”
O’Boyle is remembered for his skill as an artist and his sense of humor.
“He always had this little mischievous twinkle in his eye,” Harrington said.
Before his own farewell party in May, O’Boyle drew humorous caricatures of fellow firefighters on a chalkboard at Fire Department Headquarters.
“It was hilarious,” Thomas said.
While working in Salem, O’Boyle often looked in on a grandfather in Peabody, firefighters said.
Hundreds of firefighters are expected to turn out today for an 11 a.m. funeral at the Conway, Cahill-Brodeur Funeral Home in Peabody. It will be followed by a procession to Puritan Lawn Memorial Park in Peabody.
Other fire departments will cover for Salem so on-duty firefighters can attend.
Several ladder trucks and fire engines will take part in the procession. As a tribute along the route, a large American flag will be draped over crossed aerial ladders from Cambridge and Salem.
Last year, O’Boyle was honored in a ceremony at City Hall after returning from a tour of duty in Kunar Province in northeast Afghanistan, one of the deadliest regions along the border with Pakistan.
“We are happy we are getting you back safe and sound,” Mayor Kim Driscoll said to a small crowd that included O’Boyle’s mother.
In an interview after the ceremony, Staff Sgt. O’Boyle said he was a squad leader in a remote and mountainous region of Afghanistan where several members of his platoon had been wounded. He said he was one of the lucky ones.
“I walked away without a scratch,” he said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.