BOSTON – One was a fitness enthusiast who helped the wounded after the Boston Marathon bombings and planned to run the race himself this year. The other was a father of three young children who had firefighting in his blood.
The smoke from a wind-whipped fire had dissipated Thursday, but a palpable sadness hung over the city as tributes poured in for Michael Kennedy and Edward Walsh, the two firefighters who died after becoming trapped in a basement in a brownstone apartment building.
The cause of Wednesday’s fire, which also sent more than a dozen other firefighters and several police officers to hospitals, was unknown. Steve MacDonald, a fire department spokesman, said a conclusion could be months away.
Outside Engine 33/Ladder 15, the station where Walsh and Kennedy worked, people stopped to pay their respects, some crying, others praying. Flowers were draped on the fire alarm outside the brick building and piles of bouquets accumulated.
Firefighters continued their work.
“Life goes on,” Dennis Costin said as alarms went off at the station. “It’s all we can do.”
Kennedy, 33, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001 and was on active duty for six years, including a deployment to Iraq, before joining the fire department in 2007.
In April, he was among the first responders to the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line, just a few blocks from the station.
“He was devastated by it. He told us about helping to hold someone together, someone with bad injuries,” said Shelley White, the general manager of Personalized Fitness, a health and wellness center where Kennedy also worked as a coach in the CrossFit Together program.
Kennedy wrote an essay to earn a spot in the marathon this year and had been training with other firefighters planning to run in the April 21 race, said Gov. Deval Patrick, who was among those who stopped by the station Thursday.
Walsh, whose three children are all younger than 10, was a devoted family man who was physically imposing yet reserved, friends said.
“He wasn’t one of these rah-rah guys, but he just had a presence about him,” said John Tobin, a Northeastern University administrator who lives a few streets from Walsh’s family in the city’s West Roxbury neighborhood.
Tobin’s son, Matthew, and Walsh’s son, Dylan, were friends and classmates at Holy Name Parish school, where they played on a basketball team together. On Sunday, Walsh and Tobin engaged in a friendly but vigorous father-child game on the court.
“We were joking about who was going to blow out his ACL first,” said Tobin.
But Tobin never heard the tall, fit Walsh talk about the dangers of his profession.
“It didn’t appear from the look of him that Ed was scared of much,” said Tobin.
Walsh, 43, grew up in Watertown, part of a family of firefighters. His late father and two uncles were firefighters in that Boston suburb, and a cousin and brother-in-law currently serve in the department.
The fire in the Back Bay neighborhood broke out mid-afternoon as an offshore storm lashed the city with strong winds, causing the flames to spread quickly, officials said.
Walsh and Kennedy were among a group of firefighters who entered the building and made their way into the basement. Within minutes, “something extraordinary happened,” prompting them to issue a mayday, said MacDonald, the fire department spokesman.
Other firefighters pulled Kennedy from the building, but he was pronounced dead at a hospital.
“We all pretty much knew Lt. Walsh was gone,” said MacDonald. But hours would pass before his body was recovered.
Most of the other injured firefighters had been discharged from hospitals by Thursday after being treated for burns and an assortment of other injuries, he said. All residents of the building escaped unharmed.
Nothing had been ruled in or out about the fire’s cause, though Deputy Chief Joseph Finn had said earlier that there was no reason to suspect foul play.
Lisa Timberlake, a spokeswoman for Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, said the building did not appear to have any serious inspection violations. The owners were fined $25 in 2012 for improper storage of trash.
Funeral arrangements for the firefighters had not yet been announced.
Kennedy, who was single, served on the board of the Boston Firefighters Burn Foundation, which raises money and offers support for victims and families at three major burn units in the city.
Phil Skrabut, a foundation board member, recalled Kennedy’s frequent visits to young burn victims at Shriners Hospital.
“He connected with the children right off the bat,” Skrabut said. “He was never intimidated by any of their injuries. He would just walk into the room and start playing with them as if he was a kid himself. He was just a very happy guy and a big kid and he had a huge, huge heart.”
Just three weeks ago, Kennedy and other foundation members visited a Boston hospital where Andrew Stevens, a Claremont, N.H. firefighter, was recovering from burns suffered in a March 2 house fire. The foundation provided the family with gift cards for living expenses and arranged a hotel for a week.