The deaths of two Boston firefighters at the end of March struck home for members of the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department. For some it was harder than others.
Firefighter Scott T. Starbard was on a first-name basis with Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh. “Eddy” was how he remembered him. Lt. Walsh and Mr. Starbard graduated from Watertown High School together in 1989. “We knew each other through class, we played sports together, and knew each other as neighborhood kids,” Mr. Starbard said. “The connection through the high school and the fire department made it more real.”
When he saw Lt. Walsh’s image on television, Mr. Starbard said that he was shocked.
Lt. Walsh and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy died during a nine-alarm fire in Boston’s Back Bay on March 26. Thousands of firefighters from across the country as well as beyond paid their respects in Watertown and West Roxbury last week. One hundred-twenty Cape Cod firefighters rode chartered buses to Watertown on Wednesday, April 2, to attend Lt. Walsh’s funeral. A similar number took the trip Thursday to West Roxbury for Mr. Kennedy’s funeral.
Approximately 20 personnel from the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department paid their respects both days.
“It showed how much solidarity there is amongst professional firefighters,” Mr. Starbard said. “Firefighters tend to really support each other in these hard times.”
Mr. Starbard said that between a quarter-mile and half a mile of Main Street in Watertown was shut down for Lt. Walsh’s funeral procession. Firefighters about 12 rows deep lined the street. The firefighters saluted as the procession slowly made its way to St. Patrick’s Church.
“You could hear a pin drop,” Mr. Starbard said. “No one whispered and no one said a word. Out of 10,000 firefighters, there wasn’t a dry eye.”
In the procession, a fire engine carried Lt. Walsh’s casket. An acquaintance of Lt. Walsh held his helmet. His jacket hung from the back of the engine. A ladder truck followed the engine with flower bouquets. A bagpipe band played. Honor guards, family members and firefighters from Boston joined the procession.
“It was emotional,” Mr. Starbard said.
Falmouth Fire Chief Mark D. Sullivan and Deputy Chief Michael F. Small, both present on Wednesday, experienced similar reactions.
“It was very solemn,” Deputy Small said. “It was a tough day but it makes the job that much easier because you know the family was taken care of.”
Chief Sullivan said the number of firefighters there was impressive. He said that there were so many there that not all could make their way into the church to pay their respects. Firefighters came from as far away as Dublin, Ireland. Firefighters from Dallas, Pittsburgh and Ontario stood near Falmouth firefighters during the procession.
Mr. Starbard had not been back to Watertown for about 20 years. He is a Sandwich resident now. He said that some people gathered for the service recognized him through the “sea of blue” of firefighters. They reintroduced themselves and would reach out through Facebook and e-mail afterward.
Before the incident, Mr. Starbard did not know Lt. Walsh was a firefighter. He knew that his father was. He said that the morning after the report of the Boston fire, his wife asked him if he knew any of the firefighters. As a firefighter, Mr. Starbard said that he often meets personnel from other fire departments. He had been following the incident on the news but was sure he did not know either of the two.
“Eventually,” Mr. Starbard said, “they showed a picture of him on the television and it shook me the core. I knew right away. It was surreal.”
“We don’t go to work every day thinking something like this will happen,” Mr. Starbard said about the Back Bay fire. “But at the back of our minds, there is a day, not every day, you will have to do something that is dangerous. That’s part of the job, and we know it.”
But it helps to know, he said, that if it does happen, there will be the support of thousands of firefighters as there were in Watertown and West Roxbury last week.