Carefully, the two men measured out a rectangle on the grass — 8 feet long, 3 feet, 9 inches across — and marked it off with orange spray paint.
Then they stood to the side solemnly and watched as Fernando Rivera plunged the teeth of the backhoe into the ground, still hard with winter, and began digging the grave for Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy.
Rivera has been digging graves for 40 years at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, and he has dug too many to remember. But he remembers every one in this field. This field, he said, is different.
He gestured with his hand toward a spot a few yards away, where a flat headstone marks the last time he dug in the Fireman’s Lot. It holds Warren J. Payne, one of two firefighters who died in a blaze at a West Roxbury restaurant seven years ago.
In the brotherhood of Boston firefighters, the Fireman’s Lot is hallowed ground. It is a place no one wants to end up in, in a profession that commands respect because they might. Since 1858, the small stretch of grass on a gentle hill has served as the final resting place for 15 Boston firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice, who died in the line of duty. On Thursday, Kennedy, one of two men killed in a horrific blaze in the Back Bay last week, will become number 16.
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