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Being surrounded by “family” made coping with the loss of two brothers two months ago a little easier for Toledo’s firefighters.
When asked to be there for Boston firefighters who lost two of their own last week there was no question: Toledo would represent.
Eighteen firefighters and Chief Luis Santiago have traveled to Boston to pay their respects to the department and their fallen, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, Jr., 43, and firefighter Michael L. Kennedy, 33, who died a week ago in a nine-alarm fire exactly two months after Toledo lost Pvts. Stephen Machcinski, 42, and James “Jamie” Dickman, 31.
“It’s an honor and respect thing,” Capt. Daniel Brown-Martinez said. “Some of their brothers were at our service. It’s something you don’t want to have to repay, but you’re honored to do it.”
The Toledo contingent consists of all ranks: probationary firefighters to the chief.
Captain Brown-Martinez and others packed into two vans on Monday and made the 12-hour drive to Boston for memorial ceremonies planned today and Thursday. On Tuesday evening, Chief Santiago boarded Boston-bound plane. Some, including the chief, will return Thursday night; others will be back Friday.
Chief Santiago said he’s been to about a dozen line-of-duty-death services in all his years on the department, but the Boston services will be his first as chief and his first since losing Privates Machcinski and Dickman.
“What we went through gave me a new understanding of truly how important it is and how it does affect and support the department that’s going through that tough time,” Chief Santiago said. “It’s probably because of the experience that we just had that I feel compelled to go.”
Privates Machcinski and Dickman were killed Jan. 26 after becoming trapped in a burning apartment building at 528 Magnolia St. in North Toledo. The two died of burns and carbon monoxide poisoning, an autopsy showed.
The building’s owner, Ray Abou-Arab, 61, of Oregon has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder charges, including two counts with specifications that could allow him to be sentenced to death, as well as additional counts of arson and tampering with evidence.
The Boston firefighters died when they became trapped in the basement of a burning four-story building. Thirteen other firefighters were injured battling that blaze.
Captain Brown-Martinez has also attended several services for other departments during his 13 years as a Toledo firefighter, but having recently been in the same position as the Boston firefighters, the services now have a different feeling.
“I would totally be lying to you if I said it didn’t chill you to the bone,” the captain said. “ … It reminds you of the dangerous nature of our job and how this could be any one of us at any time, what we leave behind — potentially our families — and the risk that we take.”
Thirty-three firefighters across the United States have died in the line of duty so far in 2014, and 104 firefighters died in the line of duty last year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
“The look on their [Boston firefighters’] faces, knowing that we just lost two of our members … they know exactly what we were going through, and we know what they’re going through,” the captain said. “It was a look in most of their eyes — you didn’t need any words. It was something that I feel ... is a way of honoring Steve and Jamie.”