Saturday, 2:15 PM
Mayor, families observe anniversary of firefighters' deaths
(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Donovan Slack, Globe Staff
In an emotional ceremony this afternoon in front of the West Roxbury firehouse, family members of firefighters Paul J. Cahill and Warren Payne unveiled plaques dedicated to their memory on the one-year anniversary of their death.
Dignitaries including Mayor Thomas M. Menino and West Roxbury City Councilor John Tobin joined firefighters union president Edward Kelly and Chief of Department Kevin MacCurtain at the unveiling ceremony, which drew about 100 people to the two-story brick firehouse on Centre Street.
"Today we all gather to remember that night when two courageous firefighters lost their lives," Menino said. "Firefighters Cahill and Payne gave their supreme sacrifice. We shall never forget. To the families, we shall never forget you, also."
Cahillís wife, Anne Cahill, and other family members including his brother and son, and Payneís mother and ex-wife, pulled off black drapes to reveal brass plaques installed between the garage bays for Engine 30 and Ladder 25. They were silent during the ceremony, which was performed to the strains of a lone bagpipe playing "Going Home" and "Amazing Grace."
Afterward, family members said they appreciated all that West Roxbury firefighters had done to remember the two firefighters.
"They deserved it, Paul and Warren, and I think [the Engine 30 and Ladder 25 crews] did a nice job," Anne Cahill said.
One year ago today, Cahill and Payne were among the first firefighters to respond to the fire at the Tai Ho Mandarin and Cantonese restaurant on Centre Street in West Roxbury. Grease from the restaurant's kitchen exhaust system had seeped into the restaurant's ceiling and ignited. When the firefighters arrived, there were few visible flames and hardly any smoke. But within minutes the blaze turned deadly.
Payne was killed when a fireball exploded from the ceiling. At 9:06 p.m., Payne's radio sounded a distress signal, indicating he was in mortal danger. Cahill succumbed to smoke inhalation after becoming disoriented in the restaurant's kitchen.
In a further commemoration, at 9:06 tonight the fire department will sound an alarm on its radio system in honor of the men. At the signal, firefighters across the city will drive fire engines from their bays and park them outside neighborhood fire houses. They will then lower flags to half staff and observe a moment of silence, fire officials said.
A planned cookout to thank neighborhood residents for their support in the wake of the deadly fire was canceled earlier this week by fire department brass who said it was an inappropriate way to memorialize Cahill and Payne. But today lunch was served nonetheless by Texís BBQ Express, a Dedham catering company, in a parking lot next to the firehouse, off city property. One of the employees of Texís was a friend of Paul Cahillís.
There was no sign today of the controversy that has plagued the Boston Fire Department since shortly after their deaths, when autopsy results indicated Payne had cocaine in his system and Cahill had a blood alcohol content of 0.27, more than three times the legal limit to drive in Massachusetts.
City officials and the firefighters union have been engaged in a bitter contract dispute over the inclusion of mandatory, random drug and alcohol testing since the autopsy results became public.
MacCurtain, the chief of the department, focused his sentiments on the other legacies of Cahill and Payne, including the purchase of thermal imaging cameras and added training on rapid rescue techniques.
"Paul Cahill and Warren Payne deserve nothing less than our utmost respect," he said. "They were lost while serving the people of this city."
Donovan Slack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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