Firefighters gather to honor Mass. fire captain for dedication to family, profession

Capt. Thomas Kenney was a fire service instructor and leader of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue Task Force


Geoff Spillane
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

CENTERVILLE, Mass. — Hundreds of firefighters from New England and beyond gathered Tuesday to pay tribute to the impact Hyannis fire Capt. Thomas Kenney had on their profession.

Kenney, 65, who died last week of occupational cancer, was remembered with prayer, accolades and even a bit of humor during a nearly two-hour funeral at Our Lady of Victory Church.

(Photo/  Hyannis Fire Department)
(Photo/ Hyannis Fire Department)

Until his retirement in October, Kenney had served the Hyannis Fire Department for nearly four decades. He also was a well-known fire service instructor and leader of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, responding to disaster scenes throughout the nation.

Kenney was one of the first search-and-rescue responders to arrive at ground zero in New York City after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"He was the guy," said David Gallagher, a retired lieutenant from the Huber Heights, Ohio, Division of Fire, who had taught with Kenney for many years. "He's the one I hope everyone here would aspire to be like."

Gallagher said he had most recently been with Kenney in December at the funeral of Worcester firefighter Christopher Roy.

"Tom's influence in the fire service was a national influence," Centerville-Osterville-Marstons Mills Fire Chief Michael Winn said in the church parking lot, which was nearly full an hour before the Mass.

As the funeral cortege neared the church, several hundred unformed firefighters and other public safety officials with black mourning bands across their badges quietly stood at attention. Barnstable police motorcycle officers and a Hyannis Fire Department rescue truck, draped in bunting, escorted the hearse into the church driveway as bells tolled and an honor guard and bagpiper waited.

A simulcast of the service was aired in the adjacent parish hall to accommodate an overflow crowd, and speaker systems were set up outside the church.

The somber scene has played out before for the Hyannis Fire Department. It was 10 months to the day, at the same church, the department bid farewell to Capt. Richard Knowlton, who also died of cancer attributed to his job.

Kenney was eulogized by his daughter, Meaghann, brother, Charles, Hyannis Fire Chief Peter Burke and Salem Fire Chief John Giunta. Giunta also is a leader of the FEMA task force.

"Technically, Tom had five brothers," Charles Kenney said. "But as we see here today, he had hundreds of brothers and sisters."

He also related a story of the six brothers in the bleachers at a Red Sox game, with a young Tom looking away from the field and into the city because "you never know when a fire truck or an ambulance will go by," and said it was humbling to see how his wife, Kathleen, and daughters Meaghann and Lauren took care of their husband and father when he became ill.

"It's impossible to imagine a sick man in Tom's condition getting greater care," he said.

Meaghann Kenney referenced a Times headline — "New beginnings for longtime Hyannis fire official" — on a story about her father's retirement eight months ago.

"He never got that chance," she said, adding that it wasn't long after his retirement that he was diagnosed and became ill.

"She waited 40 years to have him to herself," the grieving daughter said of her mother. "It was supposed to be their turn."

She asked the mourners gathered at the church that every time they see a cold Bud Light, a manicured backyard, a man hugging his wife, or hear a Doobie Brothers or Steely Dan song, to "please remember T.K."

"I will remember him as the best dad ever," she concluded.

The ceremony ended with a final radio call for Kenney and the symbolic ringing of a bell, which, according to the funeral program, signifies a comrade has passed and is "returning to quarters."

A burial service for Kenney will be held Wednesday in West Roxbury.

— Follow Geoff Spillane on Twitter: @GSpillaneCCT.

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©2019 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.

 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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