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Kevin Cullen

Lamenting the loss of a good jake

Boston firefighter Frankie Flynn, who worked at Engine 33 in the Back Bay.

BFD photo by Bill Noonan

Boston firefighter Frankie Flynn, who worked at Engine 33 in the Back Bay.

Chances are, if you walked past the firehouse on Boylston Street across from the Hynes some time in the last 28 years, you saw or spoke to Frankie Flynn.

He was a firefighter and one of the happiest guys in the world. Frankie Flynn would talk to a telephone pole. He went on the job in 1986, assigned to Engine 33 in the Back Bay, and never left. He was always there. And he was always smiling.

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But a couple of months ago, he was suddenly wincing.

“My back is killing me,” he confided to other firefighters.

Everybody figured Frankie hurt his back working a fire, because he was a worker, what firefighters call a good jake.

The pain got so unbearable that Frankie finally went to the doctor, about a month ago, and the doctor told him he was going to die.

“The cancer was all through him,” Eddie Glora was saying. “They said there was nothing they could do. So Frankie goes, ‘Then why am I in the hospital?’ He signed himself out.”

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Eddie Glora and Frankie Flynn met when they were 4 years old. They grew up around the corner from each other in Mattapan, and Eddie’s brother Paul went on the job, like Frankie. The kids in Mattapan called Frankie “Lefty” because he got a crew cut when he was a kid and his buddies decided he looked like a gangster named Lefty.

But everybody else — firefighters, the bartenders and waitresses who work in the Back Bay, the old ladies who live in the brownstones on Gloucester Street, the Berklee music students — called him Frankie. He was more than a good firefighter. He was an ambassador for the city.

Ed Kelly, who’s on Tower Ladder 17 on Columbus Avenue, worked with Frankie Flynn. “He was senior man on 33,” Ed Kelly was saying. “Senior man on our job is an unofficial rank. He’s the sergeant major who runs the troops. Frankie was everything you expect in a senior man. A leader, calm in the chaos. He loved teaching the young firefighters.”

Last Patriots Day, one of Frankie’s friends went in to watch the Marathon. He stopped by the firehouse, to shoot the breeze with Frankie. They were standing on Boylston when the bombs went off.

Lieutenant Steve Montoya from Ladder 24, one of Frankie’s closest friends, said Frankie ran into the middle of the carnage, helping the wounded and like other first responders was shaken by what he saw.

“That was bad, Monty,” Frankie Flynn told him. “I never want to see that again.”

But Frankie went back to work as soon as he could.

“I worked with Frankie for 20 years. And I gotta say, he was in great shape, a strong guy,” Montoya said. “Frankie was 53 but he looked a lot younger.”

Which makes his death even more incomprehensible.

On Monday, five hours after the funeral for Boston firefighter Joe Mullen ended, the wake for Frankie Flynn began. Joe Mullen was 60 years old, had 34 years on the job. The doctors gave Joe Mullen a few months to live and he defied them and the cancer for almost two years.

Frankie Flynn was dead 30 days after his diagnosis.

All those firefighters, standing there in the pews at Gate of Heaven in Southie, looking at Joe Mullen’s casket, standing there in line for Frankie Flynn’s wake in Weymouth, looking at Frankie’s widow Ginny and his son Ben, know the numbers. They know the job kills them younger than other jobs.

Eddie Glora has run the Marathon the last eight years. His favorite part is when he turns up Hereford Street, because when he gets to the top, he’d spy Frankie’s face in the open window of the firehouse.

“Frankie!” Eddie Glora would yell.

“Eddie!” Frankie Flynn would yell back.

In April, Eddie Glora will run his ninth Marathon, and he’ll yell his old friend’s name when he passes the firehouse. And it will absolutely kill him that Frankie Flynn won’t yell back.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.

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