An estimated 10,000 firefighters from across the country and as far away as Australia are pouring into the region to take part in two days of mourning for two Boston firefighters killed last week.
They are arriving from New York City, from Chicago, from Los Angeles, and from cities and towns across the state to participate in a colorful but somber pageant of solidarity and precise ceremony that begins Tuesday.
“They’re coming to pay respects,” said Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department. “They’re coming to let the families know these firefighters meant something to them. And they’re coming because of the way the fire service is.”
The wakes and funerals for Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. of West Roxbury and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy of Hyde Park will be staggered beginning Tuesday afternoon to allow family, friends, and fellow firefighters separate opportunities to pay their respects to the men, who died Wednesday while battling a wind-stoked fire in a four-story building on Beacon Street.
The observances will begin with a wake for Walsh from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick’s Church in Watertown, where the 43-year-old lieutenant’s body will lie inside the church before a funeral Mass is held there at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Kennedy’s wake is scheduled from 2:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the P.E. Murray Funeral Home on Centre Street in West Roxbury, followed by a funeral at 11 a.m. Thursday at nearby Holy Name Church.
An investigation is continuing into the cause of the fire. MacDonald said a conclusion might not be reached for weeks.
Meanwhile, Boston fire officials are meticulously planning their role at the funeral Masses, each of which will be led by a Fire Department chaplain and attended by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston. The homily at each funeral will be delivered by the Rev. John J. Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia Church, which is close to the Boylston Street fire station where Walsh and Kennedy worked.
Unni blessed Walsh’s body after it had been pulled from the burning building in the Back Bay, said the Rev. Daniel J. Mahoney, the department’s senior chaplain.
As the minutiae of the wakes and funerals are finalized, hotels in the city and suburbs are offering their remaining rooms to visiting firefighters, often at discounted rates, at a time when accommodations are scarce because of a large convention opening Wednesday in the city.
“The response has been remarkable,” said Pat Moscaritolo, president of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, which had been asked by the mayor’s office to compile a list of hotels offering rooms and reduced prices.
The Langham hotel, for example, is offering a 30 percent discount on its best rates.
“We jumped at the chance,” said Jonathan Fine, public relations manager for the luxury hotel in the Financial District. “It’s such a tragedy for the two firefighters and for the city as a whole. We really wanted to make sure we did something.”
North of the city, the Salem Waterfront Hotel & Marina is offering rooms free of charge to visiting firefighters.
More than 50 hotels offered to help despite an influx of 6,000 visitors this week in Boston for a convention of the National Science Teachers Association, said Beth Stehley, vice president for sales and convention services for the visitors bureau.
“To see them come around so quickly speaks volumes,” Stehley said.
The rituals planned for the next two days will also speak volumes, but in quiet ways full of rich symbolism. The vehicles housed at the Boylston Street firehouse, Engine 33 and Ladder 15, will carry the caskets and flowers for each man, respectively, said Chaplain Mahoney, who will say Kennedy’s funeral Mass.
The Rev. Robert E. Casey, the assistant fire chaplain who is pastor at Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid parishes in South Boston, will say the funeral Mass for Walsh.
At each church, the helmet of the deceased will precede the casket, which is generally ushered down the aisle by pallbearers from the victim’s fire company, Mahoney said. A Boston Fire Department flag is expected to drape Walsh’s casket; a US flag will cover the coffin holding Kennedy, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, the chaplain said.
After the Mass, the victims will be posthumously awarded Medals of Valor. Then a silver-plated bell will sound the death notice — a succession of 10, then 1, and finally 5 tolls — to signify that they have responded to their last alarm.
Walsh will be buried beside his father, a former Watertown firefighter, in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Watertown.
Kennedy will be interred in the Fireman’s Lot, a plot bought in 1857, at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Mahoney said.
Before the coffins are lowered into the ground, the pallbearers will remove the white gloves they wear with their dress uniforms and place them on the caskets.
The ceremony from wake to burial, although a difficult one emotionally for the families, will become “a great consolation later on,” Mahoney said.