For the first time in 15 years, Rene Jaro unwrapped the rosary beads he kept around his wrist. He walked into the firehouse on Boylston Street, pressed them into the palms of an Engine 33 firefighter, and passed on his blessing.
“God will be always in those beads, and God will be anywhere those beads go,” Jaro said as he walked back out into the sunshine, pulling up his jacket sleeve to reveal two rows of shallow dents in his wrist where the beads had lain against his skin for 10 and 15 years. “I feel like I’m empty, but I know it’s going to the team that needs it most.”
Since word of the deaths of two of the firefighters stationed on Boylston Street began to spread Wednesday, they have come: dignitaries and neighbors, homeless men and fellow firefighters.
They have brought flowers, but also handwritten poems, oragami, paintings, a bottle of whiskey, and two shot glasses. By Friday morning, the offerings spilled off the sidewalk, and passersby paused to cross themselves or simply to stand in silence.
“It’s incredible,” said a firefighter standing in the doorway of the firehouse where Engine 33 is stationed, Jaro’s rosaries now wrapped around his wrist and a swath of black bunting hanging above his head.
On Wednesday, the firehouse lost two of its own, when a wind-fueled nine-alarm inferno incinerated a building on Beacon Street, trapping Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy and Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. in the basement.
Walsh and Kennedy were the first to enter 298 Beacon Street at around 2:45 Wednesday afternoon to investigate the source of the smoke wafting from the basement; they never came back out. Some firefighters have speculated that their hose burned through, leaving them without water when what began as an apparently minor fire suddenly exploded in heat and smoke. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but officials have said it appears to have been accidental.
The firefighters’ deaths were announced in a press conference at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and immediately the tributes began arriving at the firehouse: small bouquets, single long-stem red roses, croissants, cranberry bread, and cakes.
On Thursday, Fred Mazza, 49 and homeless, said he scraped together enough money to buy a bouquet to add to the growing shrine.
On Friday, he dropped to his knees on the pavement in front of the firehouse, clasped his hands, and bowed his head.
“Have mercy on their souls because of the job that they did,” he prayed. “Help the family and help the mother and help all the other firefighters that got injured.”
Mazza spends much of his time panhandling at the Dunkin’ Donuts a block away on Newbury Street, and he said Walsh and Kennedy would buy him coffee or put money in his paper cup whenever they dropped in.
“I feel so bad,” he said, wiping away tears after he finished his prayer. Later, he said, he will go to pray before the charred skeleton of the Beacon Street building.
Civic leaders, too, have made the pilgrimage: Governor Deval Patrick, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and countless fire and police officials have all arrived to pay their respects. Firefighters current and retired arrive steadily to salute or shake hands.
But from morning until evening in the days since the tragedy, the station has been visited by a stream of neighbors who are used to seeing “their” firefighters every day, out on the sidewalk talking and laughing.
Many tokens left on the sidewalk wink at inside jokes: designer eyeglass cases, a rubber duck, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a handmade sign paying tribute to Kennedy’s heart, laugh, smile, “and most of all . . . mustache.”
Some offered up personal talismans that had seen them through their own dark hours.
Joe Banks Jr., 54, handwrote and framed his favorite poem, called “Don’t Quit,” to bring to the firehouse: “When things go wrong, as they sometimes will / When the road you’re trudging seems so up hill . . . When care is pressing you down a bit / Rest if you must but don’t you Quit!”
He stumbled across the poem about 15 years ago in a friend’s home, he said, after his brother was killed, and he loved it so much that he sat down and copied the whole thing right off the wall. It has seen him through his grief and a battle with cancer.
“It’s a sentimental value,” he said. “I just wanted to show my appreciation.”