By Alan Burke
---- — It’s likely that all of the thousands of firefighters who attended yesterday’s funeral for fallen brother Lt. Edward Walsh of Boston will remember one thing especially — and that’s the image of Walsh’s small children.
“So young,” said Salem firefighter Tom Brophy. He saw their faces, “just looking at you, staring at you.”
“We gave the honors as they passed,” said Marblehead firefighter Doug Knowles. “A salute.” As they did, there was only the hush of the vehicles moving slowly. “And I could hear guys breaking down around me.”
For Brophy, the son of a retired deputy chief, this had a special meaning. He remembered his own feelings and fears when his father was injured on the job.
“They have a big road ahead of them,” he said. But it mattered, too, that there were so many to honor their father’s sacrifice. “I think it will make it a little easier to know we have their back.”
Walsh and fellow firefighter Michael Kennedy were killed in a Back Bay basement blaze on March 26. Kennedy’s funeral is scheduled for today. The services have attracted firefighters from all over the country and, even, the world. Peabody fire Capt. Ted Quinn noted seeing representatives from Germany, England and Canada.
“It’s a brotherhood,” he said. “Somebody’s gone, and we’re just sending them off ... showing our respect,”
The Salem contingent of about 50 watched with amazement as state and Boston police parted traffic for them all along the way from Vinnin Square to Boston. They stood at attention in Class A uniforms outside St. Patrick’s Church in Watertown. Through loudspeakers, they heard Walsh’s sister Kathy Malone describe her brother, telling the congregation, “He was destined to do great things, and he did.”
“You listened to her, you felt you knew him personally,” said Salem firefighter Ray Krajeski. “She was great.”
Then came silence as Walsh’s casket was placed atop his Engine 33 for a final ride. “You could hear a pin drop,” said Knowles, who was part of a blue line of firefighters five to six deep that flanked the street for nearly a mile.
A lone bagpiper began to play “Amazing Grace,” Krajeski said. “The hair on the back of your neck just stood up.”
All the firefighters agreed that they have been to too many of these services.
“My first was the six in Worcester,” Knowles said, recalling memorials for six Worcester firefighters killed in a warehouse blaze in 1999. “There’s almost the same amount of people here today.”
Peabody firefighter Chris Dowling pointed out that also in attendance was Amy Rice, widow of that department’s Jim Rice, killed during an apartment fire in December 2011. Colleague Ted Quinn saw many familiar faces, firefighters who at that time came to Peabody to honor Rice. It’s very much a family thing, he indicated, with each department assuring the other: “Anytime ... look us up, and we’ll take care of you. This is one of the only professions in the country where you stop in at the firehouse and they’ll take care of you. Feed you. Clothe you.”
Those left back at the station house yesterday made sacrifices so that their colleagues could attend.
Such tragedies spark investigations, with the firefighters more eager than anyone to learn what went wrong and how it could be avoided in the future. They might have spoken of such things when they gathered at the union’s Florian Hall in Dorchester following the funeral. But the final conclusion will be a long time coming, and there’s not likely to be any easy answer.
“We learn from tragedies,” Knowles said. “But those guys didn’t do anything wrong. A lot of times, you don’t.”
One funeral behind him, Knowles was on his way back to Marblehead. “Unfortunately, we’ve got to do it again tomorrow,” to remember firefighter Kennedy, he said. “This could be any one of us. At any time.”
Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.