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Search narrows for car in assault on firefighters

Chris Corwin held photos yesterday of his great grandfather, grandfather, and great-uncles, who were also firefighters. (JUSTINE HUNT/GLOBE STAFF)

As police isolated the number of cars potentially used by suspects in the weekend assault on two Boston firefighters, city officials yesterday called the attack outrageous and the perpetrators cowards.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and top police officials said detectives spent the day seeking witnesses in the area near the Sullivan Square fire station in Charlestown, where four men allegedly attacked Lieutenant Chris Corwin and Firefighter Daniel Donahoe as they helped a lost truck driver back his 18-wheeler into traffic late Sunday.

"It's a different world we're living in today; cowardice prevails," Menino said.

Police Superintendent Robert Dunford said a witness reported seeing a partial Massachusetts license plate, 21XG8, on a dark-colored sedan driven by the four men, who were wearing New York Yankees caps and were all believed to be in their 20s.

They allegedly beat Corwin with a club and left him with a broken eye socket and needing at least 14 stitches. He will be unable to work for a few weeks. Donahoe, who also scuffled with the attackers, was uninjured.

Dunford said investigators have narrowed the number of vehicles possibly tied to the attack to three or four. He said detectives were trying to contact the owners. No one had been arrested by late yesterday.

The cars are registered in the Boston area, and none have been reported stolen, he added.

"This was a vicious, unprovoked assault of a public servant," Dunford said. "This was a firefighter on the street rendering assistance, and he's attacked?"

The men allegedly began beating the firefighters about 11:30 p.m., after they gave directions to the driver of a tractor-trailer who had rolled up to the Sullivan Square station. The men refused to wait as the firefighters held up traffic while helping the truck driver back onto the road.

Corwin, 42, an 18-year veteran of the department and the father of two young sons, spent yesterday recovering at his home in Weymouth. In an interview on Monday, he called the attack the worst form of road rage. He could not be reached yesterday.

"He's anxious to come back, but you can't work when you have 14 stitches in your head and you can't see," said Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for the Fire Department. "He won't be back until he's cleared."

Donahoe, 24, a rookie usually based at a station in the Back Bay, said he felt some lingering pain in his right hand. He also felt lingering anger.

"I shouldn't say what I want to happen to these guys," Donahoe said. " They should get what they deserve."

Ed Kelly, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, said of the attack: "It's an atrocity that someone would assault those there to protect society. We're just praying for Lieutenant Corwin's recovery and having him back soon."

At the station yesterday afternoon, Lieutenant Martin Fernandes said his firefighters had received a steady stream of support as they responded to calls for false alarms, car crashes, and medical crises.

"Nobody can believe the news," Fernandes said. "Everyone has been really nice."

He said he could not imagine any justification for the attack. "Corwin's really laid back," he said. "He's a really calm guy, not a yeller or screamer."

In the neighborhood, residents said they looked forward to the arrest of the attackers.

"The guys who did this are just thugs," said Jane Mcneil of Charlestown, who was waiting for a bus in front of the station yesterday.

Mike Calcagno, a bricklayer on his way to a job, asked: "Why couldn't these guys just wait? It's terrible."

Maureen Lynch, who works at the Teamsters office near the fire station, said she hopes the men see time in jail.

"It's outrageous," she said. "This firefighter wasn't even just doing his job; he was being a model citizen. Shame on them. "

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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