When Heroes Die


I was working in my office Wednesday afternoon when my phone chirped that I had a text message.  Those who know me know that this is not an uncommon occurrence in my life.  I glanced over at it and saw that it was an announcement of a fire in Boston and that a mayday had been called.  This sent a chill up my spine and my focus shifted to find the information on what was happening.  I navigated to the website that streams live audio from police and fire departments all around the country and joined in on the Boston Fire channel and followed along.

I have the honor and the privilege to serve as fire chaplain to the men and women of the Dudley Fire Department.  I was appointed shortly after I arrived here in Southbridge and continue to serve alongside some of the best people I know.  This aspect of my ministry has provided an opportunity for training and allowed me to serve in places that I would not usually be allowed to serve.  When I hear of situations like the one in Boston I go into chaplain mode and prepare for the worst.

The Saturday edition of the Boston Globe printed an interview with long time chaplain of the Boston Fire Department Monsignor Daniel Mahoney. Fr. Mahoney has been chaplain of the Boston Fire Department since the mid 1970’s.  In the article he said, “We take care of them in life and we take care of them in death.”  It is this attitude that helped the Massachusetts Corps of Fire Chaplains adopt the slogan, “Serving those who serve.”  Chaplains are there in the good times and they are there in the bad times.

With the death of Fire Lt. Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy chaplains all around Massachusetts gravitated toward their fire houses to have a cup of coffee with their firefighters or perhaps take a meal with them.  Although firefighters understand that each call might be their last, when a tragedy like this happens it brings it a little close to home for them and sometimes they need to just talk and sometimes the chaplain is the one they turn to.

The fire service is a brotherhood and soon firefighters from around the United States, and even from other countries, will be coming to Boston to attend the funerals.  They come to give the final salute to a fallen brother or sister who has made the ultimate sacrifice.  They come to show support to the families of the fallen and to give support to their brothers in the Boston Fire Department.  Most of them never knew the fallen but they were brothers and that bond extends beyond the walls of the fire house.

This bond was difficult for me to understand until I crossed the threshold and entered the fire house as chaplain for the first time.  Aside from the military I cannot recall any profession that has such a tight bond.  It is an amazing thing to watch and a blessing to be a part of.  It took time but eventually the members of the fire department welcomed me in as one of their own and it has been a blessing to be part of their lives.

Each time a death occurs in the fire service it is referred to as a “line of duty death”. It brings up memories of past incidents and it is important to discuss the feelings that come along with those memories.  People who are charged with protecting us have an amazing capacity to function in situations that would make the rest of us roll up into balls and cry, but after it is done, after the reports are written, they come face to face with those feelings.  If they are not dealt with they can cause problems later in life.

Lt. Edward J. Walsh Jr. and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy willing placed themselves in harm’s way. It is part of the job – as others run out, they run in.  Every firefighter that was present last Wednesday at that fire knew that two of their own had lost their lives in the fire and they continued to serve the people of the City of Boston in the midst of tragedy. This is why we call them heroes.

I have many titles – priest, spiritual father, pastor, brother, son, uncle, friend – but there is one title that I am the most proud to carry and that is Fire Department Chaplain.  Serving those who serve is an honor and I am fortunate and extremely blessed that I have been given the opportunity to serve.

Rest easy brothers!

This essay originally appeared in the Tantasqua Town Common, and The Quaboag Currant

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