Saturday, 2:15 PM
Thousands gather for firefighter's funeral
(Video by John R. Ellement)
By John R. Ellement and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
QUINCY -- Thousands of firefighters in dress blue uniforms stood five and six deep as a bitter wind blew down Hancock Street, crisply saluting the flag draped casket with their white-gloved hands.
The rat-a-tat of snare drums and skirl of bagpipes led the short procession to St. Ann Church. Then came a truck given the temporary designation of Ladder 26 -- the apparatus involved in the fatal crash -- adorned with red and white carnations in the shape of a firefighters' cross. Draped in black bunting, Engine 37 followed, carrying the casket of Lieutenant Kevin Kelley.
A massive American flag hung from the outstretched ladders of two fire trucks, flapping in the 16-degree sunshine. The crowd filled St. Ann Church and spilled out into the street.
"Kevin loved being a firefighter," said his sister, Peggy Paulli, in a remembrance. "He was proud to be one."
In a homily, Rev. Daniel Mahoney described Ladder 26's stationhouse on Huntington Avenue as Kelley's second home and talked about the ultimate sacrifice that firefighters know too well.
"Once again the muffled drums," said Mahoney, chaplain of the Boston Fire Department. "Once again the skirling pipes. And once again the tears. And once again, another hero."
Kelley died while on duty Friday as he rode in the front passenger seat of Ladder 26, which went out of control while traveling down Parker Hill Avenue and crashed into an apartment building in the Mission Hill neighborhood. On Tuesday evening, a crowd that easily surpassed 1,000 paid their respects at Keohane Funeral Home.
"What is it about the death of a firefighter in the line of duty that touches us in a way that no other tragedy does?" Mahoney asked during his homily, paraphrasing Cardinal Richard J. Cushing. "Perhaps it is the notion that there are good people in our society who know that to be a firefighter is to face danger and yet they do the job on every tour of duty without seeking claim or applause."
Forty MBTA buses with "Lt. Kevin Kelly" flashing in the route marquee ferried thousands of firefighters from a gathering point in Dorchester. They came from Wilbraham, Kingston, Nashua, Virginia Beach, Chicago, and beyond.
The funeral today drew more than firefighters. Joe Conway took the day off work, pulled his 11-year-old son, Daniel, out of school, and drove down from Tewksbury. Conway wanted to pay his respects and show his son how to honor a man who risked his life everyday of his 30-year career.
"These are the guys that put it on the line, not some guy bouncing a ball or playing football," Conway said.
The mourners also included Boston City Councilors Charles Yancey and Chuck Turner, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Attorney General Martha Coakley, and Governor Deval Patrick.
District Chief Charles Mitchell worked with Kelley for nearly 20 years and in a remembrance rattled off a series of "Kevin-isms" that he collected in firehouses after his death. Kelly had an innate sense that told him supper was ready two minutes before it was announced. His voice could be identified on the department radio, Mitchell said, and he enjoyed a good laugh at someone else's expense.
"He liked to give people names," Mitchell said with a sly smile on his face. "I believe 'shock' and 'clog' are sitting here in the church," referring to an electrician and a plumber.
Mitchell later struggled to find his words and came to a simple conclusion that paid Kelley the highest compliment in the fire service.
"He was a good jake," Mitchell said.