2 Firefighters Die Battling 9-Alarm Blaze in Back Bay

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By Justine Hofherr and BU News Service Staff
BU News Service

BOSTON – Two firefighters died in a fast-moving nine-alarm fire that broke out in the basement of a four-story brick rowhouse at 298 Beacon Street Wednesday afternoon. Wind gusts of up to 45 miles per hour whipped  through the city fanning the flames at the scene where firefighters had responded at 2:43 p.m.

The deceased firefighters were identified as Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, of West Roxbury, and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, of Hyde Park.

Firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, of Hyde Park, left, and Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, of West Roxbury, perished battling a fire in the Back Bay.
Firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, of Hyde Park, left, and Lt. Edward J. Walsh, 43, of West Roxbury, perished battling a fire in the Back Bay.

“In 30 years, I’ve never seen a fire travel that fast,” Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Finn said at a press conference on Wednesday evening as the fire continued to burn. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

Governor Deval Patrick issued a statement offering condolences to the families of the fallen firefighters and praising the Boston Fire department. “This terrible tragedy reinforces how we must be grateful every single day for the brave men and women who put themselves in danger day in and day out to keep us safe,” Patrick said in the statement.

Finn said the two fire fighters had entered the basement of the building to battle the blaze. Kennedy was pulled out and transported to Massachusetts General Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Walsh died at the scene.

Police shut off traffic in the area as smoke from the fire created a haze throughout the surrounding streets in the Back Bay. Boston Emergency Medical Services reported transporting 18 people from the scene. Finn said 13 firefighters were injured.

As wind gusts whipped her blonde hair around her hooded face, Tracy Taylor surveyed a closed-off section of Beacon Street at 6:30 p.m. She had been standing behind yellow crime-scene tape in 30-degree weather for 30 minutes, waiting for police officers to say her apartment was safe to enter.

Taylor, 30, lives at 313 Beacon St., across from the building where the fire started this afternoon in the building’s basement.

“I heard just an hour and a half ago,” Taylor said. “My boss told me to go home because he knows where I live and wanted me to make sure my house was OK.”

Taylor is a pastry chef at Empire Restaurant and Lounge, where she said many co-workers, like herself, have relatives in the fire department or live in the Back Bay area.

As she talked to a reporter, Taylor’s phone rang. It was her father, Ray Taylor, a firefighter with the Providence Fire Department, who was on scene of the Back Bay fire helping to man the canteen truck.

He said he was OK, but that two firefighters had died and 18 people were injured.

“This really scares me because I also live in a studio basement,” she said, shivering in her purple parka. Taylor  lives with her boyfriend, Jonathan Caserta, 32, who works at Craigie on Main, a restaurant in Cambridge.

Police officers told Taylor to contact her landlord for permission to enter through the back alley to her apartment, but she was reluctant to return yet.

“It’s spread to the buildings on either side,” Taylor said. “The wind has been such a big concern.”

A police officer at the scene said firefighters were still fighting the fire at 6:40 p.m., where Beacon Street was still filled with fire trucks, police cruisers and other emergency vehicles.

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