WATERTOWN — A throng of firefighters from near and far converged here today for the wake of Boston Fire Lt. Edward J. Walsh Jr., who died last week with another firefighter who had charged with him into a Back Bay building to battle a ferocious, wind-stoked blaze.
“It’s a brotherhood. It’s an extended family,” said Chelsea Fire Lt. Rony Gobin, who had brought his 16-month-old daughter, Amy. Since the fatal fire, he said, he has been hugging the little girl a a little bit closer.
“I don’t take it for granted,” Gobin said, “you never know when you might not come home.”
Firefighters in dress uniforms lined Main Street leading to St. Patrick’s Church, standing shoulder to shoulder. The patches on their uniforms showed they hailed from farflung places, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas. Marching in close ranks, they made their way through a hushed crowd into the church.
Under a pale blue sky, hundreds of residents also came to pay their respects, and said they hoped the huge turnout was of some comfort to Walsh’s family and fellow firefighters.
“I think it’s a great honor to him,” said Lisa Spindler, who grew up in Watertown. “We’ve never had a tribute like this before in Watertown.”
“They’re all brothers,” said her friend, Phyllis Kistoglou. “They take care of us. Now they’re taking care of themselves.”
Eugene Merullo Jr., a retired Watertown fire captain and close friend to the Walsh family, said he had watched Walsh grow up and that his death was heartwrenching.
“The proudest day of his life is when he got on the job,” he recalled. “He’s a local boy, so it hits hard.”
But as he scanned the ribbon of blue that wound down the street, he took some solace.
“It’s a wonderful tribute, a tribute to what firefighters do,” he said. “We are a closed brotherhood because we need to depend on each other. You never leave a firefighter alone.”
The wake for the West Roxbury father of three began at 3 p.m. and will last until 8 p.m. A funeral Mass is slated for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Robert Gorman, 37, of Lynn said, “I wanted to pay homage to him and his brothers.”
Today is the first of three days of memorials to the two men who died in the blaze.
The wake for Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy of Hyde Park, who was trapped with Walsh in the basement of a burning building on Beacon St., is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the P.E. Murray Funeral Home on Centre Street in West Roxbury.
His funeral will follow at 11 a.m. Thursday at nearby Holy Name Church.
The two men died last Wednesday in the out-of-control inferno that was fueled by strong winds racing across the Charles River into the back of the building.
An estimated 10,000 firefighters from across the country and as far away as Australia are expected to pour into the region to pay their respects, the Globe reported today.
George Ging, a neighbor of Walsh’s, watched as the firefighters slowly made their way into the church. He recalled Walsh as a great neighbor, someone who often came by to say hello when he saw Ging working on his lawn
“Always had the time to stop and say hello” he said. “He was the best.”