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In the Fireman’s Lot, the sacred act of digging a hero’s grave

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Carefully, the two men measured out a rectangle on the grass – 8 feet long, 3 feet 9 inches across – and marked it off with orange spray paint.

Then they stood to the side solemnly and watched as Fernando Rivera plunged the teeth of the backhoe into the ground, still hard with winter, and began digging the grave for Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy.

Rivera has been doing this for 40 years, digging graves at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, and he has dug too many graves to remember. But he remembers every one in this field. This field, he said, is different.

He gestured with his hand toward a spot a few yards away, where a flat headstone marks the last time he dug in the Fireman’s Lot. That was seven years ago, after a terrible fire at a restaurant in West Roxbury.

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