When Joseph F. Boucher Jr. died with eight other firefighters when a wall collapsed in the 1972 Hotel Vendome fire, he left behind a young widow, pregnant with the couple’s first child.
On Saturday morning, the son Boucher’s wife gave birth to sat with the other families of the firefighters who perished on June 17, 1972, when the hotel wall fell in after about 200 firefighters spent three hours fighting the four-alarm blaze. The men were trapped under the debris after one of the building’s beams crumbled.
The fire, which broke out the day before Father’s Day, took the lives of more firefighters than any other in Boston Fire Department history.
Growing up, Joseph Boucher only knew his namesake from the stories told by family members and other firefighters of a good and honorable firefighter.
He wanted to carry on that tradition.
“It’s a family business,” Boucher said after the ceremony, sitting in front of a granite memorial at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street. “Something in the blood.”
Twenty-seven years after his father’s death, Boucher became a firefighter himself and now works with Ladder 19 in South Boston.
“It’s not like a normal job. It’s like a family,” Boucher said. “The way they took care of our family [after my father died] meant a lot.”
Boucher attended the ceremony Saturday in uniform, joining about 50 other active firefighters in attendance, most of whom represented the ladders and engines whose firefighters were killed in the Hotel Vendome blaze.
“This is what it’s about,” Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn told the firefighters Saturday, “remembering our heroes, the people who made the ultimate sacrifice for this department, going forward and making sure we honor their memory every day we come to work and we don that uniform of a Boston firefighter.”
Finn also thanked the families, who sat on folded chairs in front of the memorial, each holding a white rose that they later placed in front of the memorial as their loved ones’ names were read.
The memorial was built 20 years ago on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, across from the former site of the Hotel Vendome. The names of the nine firefighters killed in the fire are etched on the granite with their birth dates and their ladder or engine numbers.
When Joseph P. Saniuk’s name was read, his niece Genia Saniuk Heinig walked solemnly with her husband to Saniuk’s name on the memorial, where they placed a white rose on the ground before returning to their seats.
Her uncle had just recently been engaged when he died in the fire. Saniuk Heinig was in her 20s.
“I can remember my dad telling me, he [my uncle] always wanted to be in the fire,” she said before the ceremony.
Saniuk Heinig said she has attended the memorial ceremony every year to keep her uncle’s memory alive and honor the sacrifice all first responders give.
“For the firefighters to remember them every year is just so special,” she said.
Phyllis Welby, whose father, Lieutenant John E. Hanbury, Jr., died in the fire, had tears in her eyes Saturday as she stood at the site of the memorial. She said she spoke at the memorial dedication ceremony in 1997 and brings her family with her each year to honor her father.
This year, she attended with three of her grandchildren, ages 3, 6, and 7. Before the ceremony, she showed them the former site of the hotel and told them about their great-grandfather’s life.
“They asked questions,” she said. “So at their young age now, they at least know the history.”