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Thousands of U.S. firefighters mourn comrade killed in Boston blaze

By Daniel Lovering

WATERTOWN, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Thousands of firefighters from across the United States lined the streets of a Boston suburb on Wednesday to grieve for one of two firefighters who died battling a blaze in a downtown apartment building.

In front of St. Patrick's Church in Watertown, where the funeral was held for Boston Fire Department Lieutenant Edward Walsh, a gigantic American flag hung from two ladder trucks assigned to local fire companies.

Walsh, 43, and Firefighter Michael Kennedy, 33, died on March 26 while fighting a fire in a four-story apartment house in Boston's historic Back Bay neighborhood.

Seventeen firefighters were injured from among some 150 who responded. None of the tenants were hurt.

Firefighters from New York, Chicago and Miami joined the procession ahead of the funeral.

Brendan Gurry, a firefighter from Newark, New Jersey, said he and about nine others from his department had traveled 300 miles to attend the funeral.

"I would travel as far as my money would take me to show respect for someone who gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Gurry, 32, who was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside Boston. "It's an honor thing."

As bagpipes played dolefully, a fire truck carried Walsh's casket, draped in a Boston Fire Department flag, to and from the church. A line of uniformed firefighters, including one with a white bandage around much of his head, saluted as the body was carried into the church.

"This is what it's all about," said Bill Shute, retired chief of the Amesbury, Massachusetts, fire department as he looked at the firefighters gathered outside the church and lining the nearby streets. "We all live this every day. The good and the bad."

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and the city's Roman Catholic archbishop, Sean O'Malley, joined other officials in addressing mourners inside the packed church.

"The entire community of firefighters who are present here today knew him as a leader, as a friend and as a brother," the mayor said. "As a brave and experienced firefighter, Ed Walsh was a rock supporting all of our lives, whether we knew him or not."

Aaron Dushku, 40, a Watertown councilor-at-large, said the turnout reflected how well Walsh was known in the community.

"It's just recognition of a local son, a native son, a brave hero who died in the line of duty," said Dushku, who attended high school with Walsh. "We're a pretty tight community."

Edward Walsh, who is survived by his wife and three children, will be buried next to his firefighter father.

Kennedy's funeral is due to be held on Thursday at Holy Name Church in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Bernadette Baum, Toni Reinhold)

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