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The Boston Globe

Metro

Fallen firefighters honored after 70 years

Aside from a few small flare-ups, the fire was all but over inside the Luongo Restaurant in East Boston on Nov. 15, 1942. And then, at 4:15 a.m., a massive wall tumbled down, causing the building to collapse and trapping dozens of firefighters under heavy debris.

Six firefighters lost their lives 70 years ago Thursday. The incident gripped the city until it was overshadowed by a far-deadlier tragedy 13 days later, the Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire that killed 492 people.

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The nightclub fire, with its massive loss of life, instantly became national news and eventually led to sweeping changes in the fire code and many medical advances. But in the tide of attention, the Luongo tragedy, which ranks as one of the department’s deadliest, drifted into near obscurity.

That is about to change. A 4-foot granite monument to honor those firefighters will be unveiled Thursday at Maverick Square, and city officials and the relatives of the victims hope it will bring awareness to the sacrifices of those and other firefighters.

The monument, on the sidewalk in front of the newly built East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, is across the street from where the six died and 45 others — mostly firefighters — were injured. A convenience store now occupies the spot where the building once stood.

City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, a lifelong resident of East Boston, and officials at the health center worked for several years on the project. The structure bears photographs of the six firefighters and is topped with a bronze firefighter’s helmet.

The firefighters who died were John F. Foley, Edward F. Macomber, Peter F. McMorrow, Francis J. Degan, Daniel E. McGuire, and Malachi F. Reddington.

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“It’s very gratifying that they’ve decide to honor them. To finally give them recognition like this really means a lot to their families,” said David Harney, 71, who is McGuire’s nephew.

Harney was just a year old when his uncle died.

Sally Glora, the city auditor, is Degan’s niece. She said she will likely say a few words during the ceremony on behalf of the family.

“It’s great that they are acknowledging the sacrifices of these men, after it has been overshadowed by other events,’’ said Glora, 60.“I just think that the decision to follow a career of public service is great. Francis was following in the footsteps of his father, who was a fireman for 33 years.”

A Globe article published the following day detailed what occurred and contained brief biographical information on the firefighters, who were on the second floor at the time of the collapse.

“Hours later, when the bodies were finally recovered, the firemen with bared heads stood at attention, unashamed at giving way to their emotions,’’ the article said.

McGuire, 44, left a 12-year-old daughter. Reddington, 48, was born in Ireland. Macomber, 47, had a son serving in the Army in Panama at the time of the fire.

Foley, 57, had swapped days off with a fellow firefighter. Degan, 24, joined the department only 18 months earlier. McMorrow was single and lived with his father and sister.

The scene in East Boston, a few days after the deadly restaurant fire, showed a disabled aerial ladder truck.

Globe file photo

The scene in East Boston, a few days after the deadly restaurant fire, showed a disabled aerial ladder truck.

Three other fires in Boston’s history have claimed the lives of multiple firefighters.

The Merrimac Street Fire on Feb. 5, 1898 killed six firefighters, including a captain, a district chief, a lieutenant, and three hosemen. The Trumbull Street Fire in the South End on Oct. 1, 1964, killed five firefighters. The Hotel Vendome Fire on Father’s Day 1972 claimed the lives of nine — still the largest loss of life in the department’s history, dating back to 1678.

Father Daniel J. Mahoney, the chief of chaplains for the fire department, said the East Boston memorial will be a fitting remembrance on several fronts.

“For the families, I know this memorial will be important for them, and for the public, it will make them stop and think of the heroics of not only these six firefighters, but of firefighters everywhere. Whether it was 1942 or before that, firefighters never forget their own, and this monument reflects that.”

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at noon at 20 Maverick Square.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.

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