WATERTOWN — Boston Firefighter Bobby Broadway aimed his camera down Main Street, towards the American flag hoisted between two ladder trucks and the thousands of firefighters in dress blues standing tall and still along the edge of the road, waiting to salute the approaching body of Fire Lieutenant Edward Walsh, killed last week in a 9-alarm blaze.
“It is warm,” said Broadway. “It’s like people have your back.”
Walsh’s funeral was held today, a week after he and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy rushed into a burning building in the Back Bay and became trapped in the basement. About 10,000 firefighters from all around the country -- Baltimore, New York City, Indianapolis, Toledo, Los Angeles -- came to pay their respects, lining the roads and standing on rooftops to salute as Walsh’s coffin passed atop Engine 33.
“This is what we do,” said Broadway of the turnout. He knew Kennedy well, he said -- they came out of the same firehouse in East Boston: Engine 9, Ladder 2. Kennedy’s wake followed Walsh’s funeral today, and Kennedy’s funeral will be held Thursday. Broadway’s grief, he said, comes in waves, and mostly, he just wants to talk to other “guys on the job.” They get it.
“It’s a history thing,” said Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Dixon, who arrived from Indiana with about 20 other firefighters, and planned to attend Kennedy’s wake and funeral as well. “That feeling of being here for them... Even guys we don’t know, that bond is there. I don’t know how to describe it.”
Main Street was shut down to regular traffic and lined with firefighters 10 to 15 deep in some places, all in the same dress blues and white gloves.
The funeral procession began with hundreds of bagpipe players and ranks of drummers marching beneath the flag strung up on the ladder trucks, the wail of their music lingering behind them.
Then came Ladder 15, the ladder truck at Walsh’s Boylston Street station, adorned with flowers. Behind Ladder 15 came Michael Walsh, carrying an empty helmet to symbolize the loss of his brother. He walked slowly, holding it tenderly in front of him.
Then came Engine 33, which Walsh and Kennedy rode to that last call on 298 Beacon St. The engine was pinned with a red and white wreath, and black and dark purple shrouds were hung along the front, side and back. On the door, the Boston Fire logo was banded in black and emblazoned with numbers symbolizing its last alarm: “9-1579 3-26-14” -- 9 alarms struck on firebox 1579 on March 26, 2014.
Walsh’s firefighter jacket with his name emblazoned on the back hung above his boots on the bumper, and his coffin rode atop the firetruck on a new hardwood maple platform built for the occasion by his fellow firefighters.
“It was an honor to do it, but it was also very sad,” said Firefighter Kevin Meehan, who helped Firefighter Benny Upton build the platform. “You want to give them a good sendoff.”
Upton, who is also a carpenter, said the platform took just one day, though a project of that scope usually would take about four.
“We weren’t even thinking about it,” said Upton, who marched in the funeral procession. “Just building it for Eddie and Mike.”
Many firefighters who came brought their own stories of loss with them.
John Hines, a retired firefighter from New Haven, remembered his father’s line of duty funeral when he was just 17, and said that marching today brought him right back to that day in 1974, and the outpouring from firefighters who never even met his father who showed up to mourn him.
“It’s important to me to return the favor,” he said.
John Guidavelli, a firefighter from Engine 264 in Rockaway Beach, Queens, N.Y., responded with his company to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“This is just terrible. It brings back a lot of memories, it always does. But look,” he said, gesturing to Main Street, “this is a brotherhood. We stand together.”
Spectators, too, lined the street, some saluting and others wiping tears from their eyes as the engines went by.
Gina Marie Caderelli, a long-time Watertown resident, stood on Main Street with her two young sons, three months and nine months. She said she went to the Watertown High School prom with Walsh’s younger brother, Michael.
“It’s just a really nice family,” she said. “I thought it would be a nice thing to bring my sons here to see this.”
Two friends of Walsh’s stood outside near the church. Tears were streaming down their faces as they listened to the church service on the loudspeakers.
The knew Walsh from the Oak Square YMCA.
“I have a sense of him walking right here beside me,” said Naomi Davis of Newtonville. “His power, his warmth, his strength, his sparkling eyes. He has changed my life. I’m trying to take a lesson from his life, to be kind always, giving always, no matter peoples’ differences. That’s how he was, and that’s how I now want to be.”
First to file into the church were three children, two girls and a boy. The boy, Walsh’s nephew, was dressed in a firefighters uniform with the words “fire chief” on the back. The two girls were wearing pink jackets, the youngest being carried by a woman.
A priest knelt down next to the first pew to shake hands and embrace the children.
A color guard filed in, marching in place, followed by a group of priests in off-white robes, with gold crosses stitched on the fronts.
Retired Boston Fire Lieutenant Tom McCann said he was heartbroken. He and others are trying to get through the ordeal.
“Ask me after tomorrow,” he said. “We have to bury Mikey next.”