Iraq Vet Turned Firefighter Makes Ultimate Sacrifice Battling Boston Blaze

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The other day my brother, a retired firefighter, posted some film on facebook of the recent 9 alarm fire in the Back Bay neighborhood in Boston that claimed the lives of two firefighters. The film reveals just how intense the fire was and how fierce it fought back against the engine and ladder companies that answered the call to duty there. You can see it reaching out of windows as if it was attempting to grab the firefighters and pull them in. This was as fierce a battle as any firefighter can face.

Yet they go to it willingly. They face the dangers with both skill and courage. And they do it to save lives but also to save property. There are few like these men and women. They do this job and take those risks on our behalf 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, year in and year out.

This fire, though, took two of these brave men from us. Michael Kennedy and his brother firefighter, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, Jr. One of them, Michael Kennedy, was also a Marine Corps veteran who had fought in Iraq. He had served his country in the Marine Corps, and he served his community in the Boston Fire Department. That, apparently, was his nature. The firefighters’ local 718 President, Richard Paris, said just that of him at his funeral mass: “He served his country proudly as a Marine. He served his city proudly as a firefighter… The city of Boston has lost one of its bravest and a dedicated veteran.”

A Life Well-Lived in Service to Others

Michael Kennedy was all of that and more, of course. Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston said this of him: “Michael Kennedy ran towards danger and embraced life. He lived his life in service to others, he gave over six years to the United States Marine Corps, including combat duty in Iraq. He was a dedicated mentor to young people, he was a caring presence for burn victims, and he raised money for Wounded Warriors.”

It is people like Michael Kennedy and his fallen brother, Edward Walsh, who stand on the front lines, both on the battlefield and before the fierce and implacable force of fire every day in order to save our lives and to keep us safe. They do this voluntarily. In a very real way, they are answering a calling that is higher than most. Men like Michael Kennedy, for some reason, have come to understand better than the rest of us that a life well lived is a life lived in service to others. Their selfless and tireless dedication to that calling deserves our respect and our praise.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

That firefighters live dangerous lives is a given. That sometimes they die in the line of duty, just as Soldiers and Marines do on the battlefield, seems to be an inevitability in this world, as hard as it is to write that. But that there are men and women who are willing to take up those risks and duties is truly humbling reality to the rest of us.

Michael Kennedy is mourned by his girlfriend, his parents, and by Alex Beauzile, a 14-year-old boy who he has been mentoring for the last seven years in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay program. He is mourned also by his brother and sister firefighters all across this country, as well as by his Marine Corps veteran family.

“There can be no human existence without
sacrifice, courage, and love…”

Let me close here with the words of Cardinal Sean O’Malley: “A firefighter’s death is a reminder to all of us of how much we need each other. There can be no community, there can be no human existence without sacrifice, courage, and love, this is what makes community possible.” Michael Kennedy lived this kind of sacrifice, courage, and love, both as a Marine and as a firefighter. May he rest, now, in peace. He lived well.


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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.