Hundreds of firefighters representing fire departments throughout the Blackstone Valley will be traveling today and tomorrow to attend the funerals of fallen Boston Firefighters Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy, who were killed one week ago in a nine-alarm fire in Bostonâ€™s Back Bay.
The Blackstone Valleyâ€™s Massachusetts contingent is being coordinated by Northbridge Fire Chief Gary Nestor, who invited several valley fire departments, including Uxbridge, Blackstone and Millville, to travel to Boston on a 55-seat bus donated by Donald Menard of Foxy Travel in Whitinsville.
More than 30 firefighters â€“ including 11 from Uxbridge and nine from Northbridge â€“ were slated to leave at 6 oâ€™clock this morning from the Knights of Columbus parking lot in Northbridge to take part in the funeral procession for Walsh at St. Patrick's Church in Watertown.
Firefighters from Millville, Douglas and Grafton are also expected to participate in todayâ€™s procession, and nine Northbridge firefighters were planning to attend Kennedyâ€™s funeral procession tomorrow at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury.
â€śThe fire service is a family and this is our way of supporting our brothers and sisters,â€ť said Nestor, who along with Uxbridge Fire Chief William Kessler, was planning to attend Walshâ€™s wake last night.
An estimated 10,000 firefighters from across the country and as far away as Australia are pouring into the region to take part in the two days of mourning.
In Rhode Island, upwards of 20 firefighters from Woonsocket were expected to attend as well as a contingent representing Burrillvilleâ€™s fire districts and groups from various fire houses in Providence.
In North Smithfield, six firefighters in dress uniform and carrying the departmentâ€™s flag will attend tomorrowâ€™s funeral.
At least 20 Pawtucket firefighters have rented a bus to attend both funerals, according to Pawtucket Fire Chief William Sisson, saying some of those are also members of the Rhode Island Professional Firefighters Pipes and Drums, which will take part in the funeral processions.
The last time a firefighter died in the line of duty in Pawtucket was 20 years ago, Sisson said.
â€śBoston supported us back then so weâ€™re doing the same for them now,â€ť he said.
In 1993, Pawtucket firefighter John Hargreaves was searching for a fire at a Cottage Street law office when he got separated from his crew. He emerged from the building on his own after a back draft explosion, but died from his injuries 24 days later. Hargreaves was the fifth Pawtucket firefighter to lose his life in the line of duty.
Kessler said 10 Uxbridge firefighters and one paramedic will take part in todayâ€™s funeral procession for Walsh to help support their brothers and sisters dealing with the loss.
â€śIt was absolutely terrible to listen to those radio transmissions, knowing there were two firefighters trapped inside that building,â€ť he said.
Kessler said the decision to order the evacuation of a burning building even though a man is not accounted for is one of the hardest decisions a fire chief has to make.
â€śItâ€™s what every fire chief fears,â€ť he said.
In Burrillville, the flag at the Firemanâ€™s Memorial Park across the street from the Harrisville fire station has been flying at half-staff since the deadly fire last Wednesday and will stay that way until the funerals for Walsh and Kennedy are over.
â€śWatching and listening to the events of that day unfold was chilling and took me back to Worcester,â€ť Harrisville Deputy Chief Michael E. Gingell said in reference to the six Worcester firefighters killed in a warehouse fire in 1999.
Gingell said heâ€™s never seen anything as intense as the wind-fed fire that tore through the four-story brownstone on Beacon Street last week.
Thirteen other firefighters were injured in the blaze, and several police officers also were taken to hospitals. Some residents were rescued from the upper floors of the apartment building, but none were hurt.
â€śThese days everything is live and the news is instant. I was watching the fire and you could actually see the flames and smoke sucking in oxygen to feed on,â€ť Gingell said.
Nestor says the fire would have been a challenge even under the best of circumstances.
â€śBut when you have winds gusting at 45 mph like they were that day then youâ€™re talking extremely dangerous conditions,â€ť he said.
(Follow Joseph Fitzgerald on Twitter @jofitz7)