WATERTOWN — They came by the thousands, from near and far, from the fire station just down Main Street here in Edward J. Walsh Jr.’s hometown and from cities across the country.
But they stood as one, a ribbon of blue that wound down a hushed street from St. Patrick’s Church. Later, shoulder to shoulder, the firefighters marched past throngs of mourners, a somber procession of solidarity and shared grief.
“They’re all brothers,” said Phyllis Kistoglou, as she watched dress-uniformed firefighters make their way into the church for Walsh’s wake Tuesday afternoon. “They take care of us. Now they’re taking care of themselves.”
Lieutenant Walsh, 43, a father of three young children who followed in his father’s footsteps to become a firefighter, was killed last week battling a fast-moving apartment fire in the Back Bay. Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, a 33-year-old Marine Corps veteran, was also killed.
On the first of three days of memorials for the fallen firefighters, mourners waited for hours under a pale blue sky to pay tribute to Walsh. Many did not know him personally or his family, but said they felt obligated to pay their respects.
“I just wanted to pay homage, to him and his brothers,” said Robert Gorman, 37, who took a train and several buses from Lynn to attend the wake.
Gorman watched the line of firefighters grow, as representatives from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Dallas took their place in back. Many greeted their Boston counterparts and extended their condolences.
Around the corner, the line of civilians stretched even farther.
Eugene Merullo Jr., a retired Watertown fire captain and a close friend to the Walsh family, said Walsh’s death was wrenching, a nightmare that still felt surreal. He had watched Walsh grow up and recalled how he dreamed of being a firefighter.
“The proudest day of his life is when he got on the job,” he recalled. “He’s a local boy, so it hits hard.”
But as he greeted firefighters from Watertown and beyond outside the church, he took a measure of solace in the outpouring of sympathy.
“It’s a wonderful tribute, a tribute to what firefighters do,” he said. “We are a brotherhood because we need to depend on each other. You never leave a firefighter alone.”
A funeral Mass for Walsh will be held at St. Patrick’s Church on Wednesday morning at 10:30.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Rich Paris, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, will deliver tributes. Kathy Malone, Walsh’s sister, will speak in remembrance.
Kennedy’s wake will be held Wednesday, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the P.E. Murray Funeral Home on Centre Street in West Roxbury.
His funeral will follow at 11 a.m. Thursday at nearby Holy Name Church.
Walsh and Paris will again deliver tributes, and Kennedy’s cousin, Davin Patrick Kennedy, will speak in remembrance.
Investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire, a painstaking process that could take weeks.
Lieutenant Rony Gobin of the Chelsea Fire Department likened firefighters to an extended family. He had brought his 16-month-old daughter Amy to show her how firefighters are there for each other.
“It’s a brotherhood,” he said.
Since the fatal fire, he has been hugging his little girl a little tighter, he said.
“I don’t take it for granted,” Gobin said. “You never know when you might not come home.”
A contingent of Pittsburgh firefighters were among the mourners, dressed in full uniform with black bands across their badges. They attend services for fallen firefighters across the country, to honor their sacrifice.
“We all know the dangers of the job,” said Captain Joe Magliocca. “We all know that it could happen to us tomorrow.”
“Whenever a brother falls, we try to get there,” said Sid Smith, a retired captain.
Walsh’s death has hit especially hard in Watertown, where he and his family are well known.
Eleanor Donato, 63, grew emotional as she recalled how Walsh won a college scholarship named for her brother, Paul J. Sullivan, who died in Vietnam.
“I don’t think there’s anyone closer to who my brother was than he was, just a very special guy,” Donato said.
George Ging recalled Walsh as a great neighbor, someone who would always come over to chat when he saw a neighbor working outside.
“Always had the time to stop and say hello,” he said. “He was the best. I feel very sorry for his family.”
Firefighters arrived in Watertown well before the wake began Tuesday to prepare for the large crowds, and a group gathered near Watertown Square.
One woman crossed the street to thank them, stopping to shake each one’s hand. She felt devastated by what had happened, she said, and thought it was the least she could do.
“I told them we appreciate everything they do,” she said. “They are always there when we need them.”