Beacon Street Fire That Killed Two Firefighters Was ‘Havoc’
Lt. Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy died trying to battle the flames.
In his 30 years on the job, Deputy Fire Chief Joe Finn has never seen a fire travel as swiftly as the one that engulfed a Back Bay brownstone on Wednesday, claiming the lives of two firefighters inside.
“The wind-driven effect had a dramatic impact on…how quickly this fire traveled,” Finn said at a news conference Wednesday night. “In 30 years I’ve never seen a fire travel that fast, escalate that quickly, and create such havoc in such a short period of time.”
The nine-alarm blaze started in the basement of an apartment building at 238 Beacon St. around 2:45 p.m. before it quickly reached the roof, requiring the assistance of 150 firefighters to help fight back the flames.
Two of those firefighters, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, and Michael Kennedy, 33, were killed after they ran a line into the building to try and stop the flames from getting out of control. They were in the building for just a few minutes before they ordered a Mayday, officials said. Both firefighters were found in the basement of the apartment, where the fire allegedly started.
Kennedy, a Hyde Park resident and Marine veteran, was found a half-hour after responding to the scene, and was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Walsh’s body was recovered hours after the fire started, once first responders swept the scene. Walsh, a West Roxbury resident, leaves behind a wife and three children.
“We sacrifice our lives for the citizens of Boston. And that’s what Lt. Walsh and Firefighter Kennedy did today,” said Richie Paris, president of the Boston Fire Fighters Local 718. He described Kennedy and Walsh as “two great firefighters.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation, and a prosecutor with specialized training dealing with fatal fires has been assigned to the case, according to a spokesman from the Suffolk District Attorney’s office. The investigator will work with Boston Police and firefighters to determine the origin of the blaze. This type of investigation is standard procedure and does not necessarily suggest foul play, however.
A total of 13 firefighters suffered injuries that ranged from broken bones to burns, officials said during the news conference not far from the scene. Many of those rushed to the hospital to treat wounds were injured by a powerful backdraft as they tried to enter the brownstone. Reports earlier Wednesday afternoon from Boston EMS said that 18 people total were taken to area hospitals, but there was no indication if the other five people were residents of the building, or also first responders.
Fire Commissioner John Hasson offered his condolences to all of the firefighters who responded to the Back Bay blaze, as well as the family members of the two victims. “Today’s a sad day in the history of the Boston fire department,” he said. “It’s just a tragic day for everyone involved in this incident.”
Mayor Marty Walsh addressed the media alongside fire officials, echoing Paris’ statement and calling Lt. Walsh and Kennedy “heroes” for risking their lives to help get residents of the building out alive. “It unfortunately takes a tragedy for us to appreciate the work that the men and women of the Boston Fire Department do,” he said.
The last time a firefighter in Boston was killed in the line of duty was in 2009, when a ladder truck lost control due to faulty brakes, causing it to smash into a building. Prior to that, in 2007, two firefighters died while fighting a fire in West Roxbury.
Wednesday’s tragedy occurred just a few blocks from the Vendome building, where nine Boston firefighters died during a 1972 hotel fire. A memorial to those men stands near Dartmouth Street.