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Late firefighter’s mom raises funds for new food, comfort truck

Kathy Crosby-Bell — mother of Firefighter Michael Kennedy, who died in the 2014 Back Bay fire — spoke at the dedication of a support vehicle for the Boston Sparks Association near the Boston Fire Museum.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

While Boston firefighters fought a wind-whipped fire in the Back Bay in March 2014, a group of fire buffs were parked a few blocks away, fighting a battle of their own: keeping ice off their dwindling food and coffee supplies.

Operating out of a discarded ambulance from the 1990s, Boston Sparks Association volunteers worked tirelessly to keep the coffee hot, and the water flowing. Dozens of firefighters filed in and out of the makeshift refuge, exhausted from working on the nine-alarm blaze that claimed the lives of two of their own: Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy.

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Small things like a hot coffee, a cool towel, or a sugary snack help sustain the energy it takes teams to knock down a blaze, said Tom Leone, a volunteer with the Boston Sparks Association.

So when the ice on that March evening threatened to take over their supplies, he said he felt hopeless.

On Sunday, he stood beside a brand-new, bright red canteen and rehab truck that he said will make all the difference. The support truck, purchased through funds raised by Kennedy’s mother, is like “going from a Volkswagen to Rolls Royce,” joked Paul Boudreau, the president of the Boston Sparks Association.

“When they’re in there, there’s no time to grieve, there’s no time to react,” said Leone, who stood by as Kennedy and Walsh’s bodies were removed from the charred brownstone. “They have to keep going. And we help them do that.”

A far cry from the 1996 ambulance, the new truck has canteens for coffee, a hot dog cooker, a microwave, and cabinets stuffed with chocolate chip cookies. On the sides are fans, mist machines, and hundreds of towels. Instead of relying on local restaurants or pizza delivery to fuel firefighters, now volunteers can do their own cooking and reheating, Boudreau said.

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“I’m so proud today,” Boudreau said as he showed off deep basins to hold soup. “This is the warmest feeling.”

Kathy Crosby-Bell, Kennedy’s mother, said she needed a project to focus her energy on after her son died.

Crosby-Bell posed with the vehicle.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

“I needed something, or else I knew I’d just curl into a ball and cry,” she said. And that’s how the Last Call Foundation, a charity developed in Kennedy’s honor, was born, she said. The foundation helps with funding, education, and research on safety in the Boston firefighting community.

After her son died, Crosby-Bell said she began to learn more about his profession. She heard firefighters often emerge from burning buildings with body temperatures of up to 105 degrees, with little food or water available to drink.

Her son’s mantra was, “go hard or go home,” Crosby-Bell said, so she vowed to make a difference in the firefighting community.

“This project is really taking Michael’s spirit and turning it into something tangible,” she said, as she stood in front of the new truck Sunday, her eyes tearing up. “He would’ve loved this.”

During Sunday’s emotional dedication ceremony, members of the Fire Department, and families of the deceased spoke about the important work of firefighters. Standing before a group of about 100 people gathered to see the new truck outside the Boston Fire Museum on Congress Street, Crosby-Bell said she hopes the truck can “represent something good that came out of the horror on Beacon Street.”

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“Heroes are often defined by the manner of their death,” she said. “But all firefighters risk their lives every day to keep us safe. They are all heroes.”

Etched into the side of the truck is a shamrock with Kennedy’s name above it. This serves as a reminder of his continuously upbeat personality, contagious laugh, and warm smile, according to Bourdeau.

“I take comfort in the fact that Ed and Mike are always with us,” he said. “No matter what, they are looking down on us, and helping us provide comfort and TLC to these men and women so they can go home to their families at shift’s end.”

Sparks senior member Neal Miller also attended the event.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jacktemp.