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Mother of fallen Boston firefighter launches foundation

Every day brings Kathy Crosby-Bell endless reminders of her son. She sticks her hands into his windbreaker pockets and finds his ticket stub and his bottle cap. She touches her chest, and there are his dog tags. She walks into his firehouse on Friday morning and thinks, there he stood, six months ago to the day: her son, Boston Firefighter Michael Kennedy, alive for a few more hours.

“I feel like he’s leading me,” Crosby-Bell said. “Every time I feel myself become depressed or overwhelmed. It’s as if he’s picking me up and saying, ‘Suck it up, Mom.’ ”

In a press conference Friday, Crosby-Bell announced the launch of the Last Call Foundation in honor of her son, 33, who was killed along with Lieutenant Edward Walsh Jr., 43, on March 26 as they battled a 9-alarm blaze on Beacon Street.

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“I’m here today to tell you what I believe,” said Crosby-Bell, standing in Kennedy’s Boylston Street fire station at a podium in front of Ladder 15, her son’s firetruck. “The only good that can come from this horrible loss is to focus on and enhance the ability of our firefighters to effectively and safely fight fires.”

The foundation will support Boston firefighters. Its first three initiatives will be to provide a new comfort and canteen truck for the Boston Sparks Association to use when they respond to emergencies; to equip Boston’s firehouses with industrial washers and dryers to clean their uniforms; and to fund fire safety research at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“I thank Kathy Crosby-Bell, and all of Michael’s family, first, for raising such a wonderful son and, second, for creating such a powerful legacy for his values and his service,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement that was read at the press conference. “I’d like to thank all the men and women of the Boston Fire Department who continue to live out Michael’s values every day.”

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Officials have said that the fire at 298 Beacon St. was sparked by workers from a Malden welding company, D&J Ironworks, who allegedly were not following proper safety precautions as they installed iron railings in the rear of 296 Beacon St. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined the company $58,000, though the company has disputed OSHA’s findings.

Kennedy and Walsh died after becoming trapped in the basement of 298 Beacon St. Their hose apparently burned through, though authorities have not yet released an official reconstruction of the blaze. Recordings of radio traffic captured voices shouting for water, saying it was getting hot, and pleading for someone to come get them.

“We all know that the men and women who are professional firefighters are heroes,” said Crosby-Bell. “But they are not superheroes. They cannot put out fires without water.”

On Friday, Kathy Crosby-Bell announced the launch of the Last Call Foundation.
On Friday, Kathy Crosby-Bell announced the launch of the Last Call Foundation.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The Last Call Foundation will grant $75,000 to WPI to develop a fireproof attack hose. David Cyganski, interim dean of engineering at WPI, said that fire hoses are currently made of a canvaslike material that is not fireproof.

“In the past, sufficiently fireproof materials would have made a hose too heavy to be usable,” said Cyganski. “Today, on the other hand, there are new materials available that never used to be available. Just like there was a day and age all bicycles were made out of steel and were heavy, and then they became aluminum.”

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The foundation will also fund washers and dryers in firehouses to clean carcinogens released by burning materials out of firefighters’ protective gear.

“Line-of-duty deaths such as Beacon Street are few and far between, thank God,” said Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph E. Finn. “The real insidious problem is the unusually high cancer rates that are ravaging the Boston Fire Department.”

Three active firefighters have died of cancer this year, said Finn.

The foundation is also buying a new truck for the Boston Sparks Association, which brings food, water, and dry clothing to first responders.

A spokeswoman for the foundation declined to discuss how much money the foundation has raised or where it had come from. Crosby-Bell said she hopes Last Call can provide the world-class firefighting force with world-class tools.

“Our lives will forever be entwined with firefighters,” she said.

Crosby-Bell said she talks to her son all the time. She tells him she is proud, and she yells at him for going into that basement.

“I still haven’t gotten over being angry at him for dying,” Crosby-Bell said. “No child should die before their parents. I know it’s not his fault. I know it's not what he wanted.”

Kathy Crosby-Bell (left) said she felt her son has kept her going since his death.
Kathy Crosby-Bell (left) said she felt her son has kept her going since his death.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen- @globe.com.