Boston firefighters dig through ashes to return wedding ring to widow

"She was just very grateful, thanking us. She's had such a bad, bad week. It was nice to see a smile on her face"

Boston Herald

BOSTON — Fire investigators are “in the wrap-up stage” of their probe into the nine-alarm Back Bay blaze that killed Lt. Edward J. Walsh Jr. and firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, the department’s top investigator said yesterday, adding he’s confident the team will figure out where and how the fire began.

“It’s accurate to say it’s in the wrap-up stage, but until it’s closed, it’s not closed,” said Richard B. Magee Jr., who commands the department’s Fire Investigation Unit. Asked whether he believes the squad will pinpoint the fire’s origin and cause, he said, “I think so.”

In Watertown, Engine 33, which Walsh commanded, drove his casket through the streets behind his brother Michael, who walked the route carrying the fallen firefighter’s honorary helmet. On the way to St. Patrick’s Church, the truck drove past the firehouse where Walsh’s father and uncle once worked, winding through streets lined by thousands of saluting police officers and firefighters.

“We stand in awe of the sacrifice he made last week. He was a true hero,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh told the congregation. “He lived his life protecting and supporting his community.”

The Rev. John Unni, who gave the homily, asked, “Who’s Eddie Walsh to you? I heard things this week: ‘He was my best friend.’ ‘He was always coaching.’ ‘He loved his wife and kids.’ ‘He was a gentle giant.’ ‘He was a firefighter’s firefighter.’ Valued, respected, you never heard a bad word about him.”

Unni’s church, St. Cecilia, is just a couple blocks from Walsh’s historic and beloved firehouse, and the priest often broke bread and shared stories with Walsh and his crew.

“Whatever guilt anyone is carrying about what should have been done, could have been done,” Unni told Walsh’s Engine 33 comrades, “know that you were where you were supposed to be, doing what you should have done, and things just went a different way.”

Meanwhile, the charred Beacon Street brownstone drew scores of firefighters from across the country, as they stopped to survey the horrible scene in between Walsh’s funeral and Kennedy’s wake. They chatted with Boston fire investigators and snapped photos with their cellphones, vowing to learn from the somber scene.

“When you look at it, it’s hard not to get choked up because a couple of brothers lost their lives,” said Capt. Joe Enfantino of the Santa Clara County, Calif., Fire Department. “Nothing is routine when there’s a fire.”

Boston fire investigator Eugenio Dudley, who greeted nearly every one of the firefighters with a handshake or a hug at the scene, said he was touched by the show of support.

“Once they get here, it’s like I know them. Many of these firefighters have buried some of their brothers,” he said. “We grieve together. We laugh together. We do things together. That’s what makes us special.”

Directly across the street, neighbor Carrieann Kerwin watched over her daughter May Myers, 7, as the little girl colored in the giant “THANK YOU” she wrote in sidewalk chalk.

“We’re just so sad,” said Kerwin, who was at home with her children when the vicious, wind-driven fire broke out. “We don’t know what to do, other than to donate to the funds. And this makes her feel better.”

The scene yielded another sorely needed moment of joy, when investigators recovered Walsh’s wedding band from the ashes on Tuesday night, fulfilling a humble request from his wife, Kristen.

“She slipped it on her finger and started crying. I gave her a hug,” said Patty Donovan, who found the ring and returned it at her husband’s wake in Watertown. “She was just very grateful, thanking us. She’s had such a bad, bad week. It was nice to see a smile on her face.”

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