Schoolchildren stood in silence, some waving US flags. Mothers, their children dressed as miniature firefighters, had tears in their eyes. One resident stood at attention, legs and arms stiff, outside the P.E. Murray Funeral Home on Centre Street in West Roxbury.
Mourners said a final farewell today to Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, who died with Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. in a nine-alarm blaze in the city’s Back Bay section last week.
At the start of the funeral procession, Centre Street was quiet, despite the crowds of thousands.
Under a bright sun they stood, as firefighters in dress uniforms carried Kennedy’s casket out of the funeral home. They walked down a slight ramp and paused before a semi-circle of family and fellow firefighters. Then they raised the casket onto a platform and onto Engine 33, which was adorned with Kennedy’s jacket and boots. A black bunting flapped in the cool breeze.
Behind them police stood in a straight line, saluting.
“I don’t believe he’s gone this young,” said John Fitzpatrick of Dedham.
Paul Devaney, a West Roxbury resident whose family members include police officers, came to show his respect, wearing all black clothing. He stood stiffly, his arms at his side, legs tight, as Engine 33 and Ladder 15, the fire company where both Kennedy and Walsh worked, began slowly moving down Centre Street from the funeral home to Holy Name Church.
“I drove by the scene of the fire last night,” said Devaney. “You could see that it was still under guard. You could see that it was a really strong fire.”
When he got home to West Roxbury, Devaney said, he could not get the image out of his mind.
Many people who lined the neighborhood’s busiest thoroughfare under sunny skies did not know Kennedy, but they knew they had to be there.
Being there helped them connect with the deceased firefighters, their sacrifice, the lives they had.
“It’s heartbreaking,’’ said Pat Fulton of West Roxbury, pausing outside a local Walgreen’s.
Another West Roxbury resident, William Azulay, who said he has many friends who are firefighters, was spellbound by the “awesome” presence of thousands of firefighters in dress uniforms spilling into the streets.
The funeral services were piped outside from the Holy Name Church. Firefighters filled local restaurants, flocked to a liquor store for cases of beer, and gathered in small groups to catch up.
Some were somber. One man stood alone on a grassy patch near the church, wrapped in his thoughts.
“It doesn’t get any easier,’’ said Jim Leahy, a retired Boston police officer and bagpiper with the Greater Boston Firefighters Pipes and Drums, which performed during the funeral procession. They played “Minstrel Boy,” in tribute to the fallen.
“It’s one we usually play,’’ explained Leahy. “It’s an old Irish tune about a fallen soldier.”
Boston District Fire Chief Reynold Maughn said the camaraderie helps. Sticking together counts.
“We try to help each other, so we can get past this and feel better,’’ he explained.
But still, the pain is overwhelming.
“It just hurts,’’ said Boston Firefighter Sharon Galloway. “But we pull together and try to get through this.”
After the service, Allan Cox, a battalion chief for the Seattle Fire Department, said five members from his department had come to Boston to stand with their brethren.
“They talk about fire service as a brotherhood,’’ said Cox, whose department is currently helping in a deadly Washington mudslide. “Brothers are there for each other.”
That was the main reason Firefighter Rocco Baldino and other members of the Baltimore Fire Department came to Boston – just to be there.
“If it had been one of us, we would want the same respect,’’ said Baldino.
Baldino’s colleague, Firefighter Roy Ward, said the day was eerily familiar. He was in West Roxbury in 2007, after two firefighters perished during a restaurant fire.
“We were here for Paul Cahill,’’ Ward said, referring to one of the firefighters killed in that blaze. “It was the same exact church. And the place where they were killed was not that far from here.”
After Engine 33 and Ladder 15 rolled away toward the cemetery and after the final white-gloved salute was made – some firefighters gathered inside Porter Café, where Irish music filled the air and a string of lights shaped like strawberries adorned the front.
A retired Brookline firefighter placed a bottle of Budweiser on a counter and looked sadly out the window.
“He used to come in here – that kid,’’ said Jeff, who only wanted his first name used. “I’d see him out here on weekends. He was with a crowd of kids. You don’t come across people like him much.”
His eyes welled, and he choked up. The music from the Celtic punk band the Pogues played in the background.
The two got to know each other over drinks and conversations, Jeff said.
“I spent 41 years on the force. I love those kids,’’ he said of Kennedy and younger firefighters. “I loved him. … He was a good guy.”
Then he walked out the door, bottle in hand, eyes filling with tears.