Boston and New York’s Finest Are Brothers Bonded by Tragedy

A relationship that started on 9/11 was strengthened by the Boston Marathon bombings and endures through smaller but no less painful moments.

Michael Dwyer

For all the raucous rivalry between Red Sox and Yankee fans, there is a bond between Boston and New York that is as strong as both cities proved to be when terrorism struck.

A soul-stirring reminder of that came on March 26, as members of the FDNY Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band were preparing to return from playing at a Burn Association gathering in Boston.

As they departed the hotel, the New York firefighters paid a noontime visit to a firehouse around the corner, the quarters of BFD’s Engine 33/ Ladder 15. A Boston firefighter greeted them as brothers and gave them a tour.

By the house watch desk where the alarms come in there was a piece of World Trade Center steel. There was also a holy card from the funeral for Firefighter Michael Boyle of the FDNY’s own Engine 33, who died on 9/11.

The FDNY pipe band had played at Boyle’s funeral as well as at the send-offs for the 342 other members the department who perished that day. And this Boston firehouse had gotten its own lesson in horror when it was the first to respond to last year’s bombing of the marathon.

But firefighters everywhere know that the best way to answer death is with life, and after a moment’s hush they were back to bantering and joking. The firehouse filled with the sounds of the two once-battered cities laughing together.

“Boston and New York back and forth,” recalled the FDNY band’s Drum Major, Capt. Liam Flaherty of Rescue 2.

The Boston firefighter took a grey BFD sweatshirt from a locker and presented it to Flaherty.

“You don’t have to do this, bro,” Flaherty remembers saying. “What do I owe you?”

“You don’t owe me anything,” the Boston firefighter said.

After 20 minutes, the time came for the New York guys to begin the drive home. Flaherty paused at the door and turned to this Boston firefighter who had been uncommonly warm and welcoming even by firefighter standards.

“Brother what’s your name?” the New York firefighter asked.

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“Mike Kennedy,” the Boston firefighter said.

“Alright, I’m Liam Flaherty,” the New York firefighter said. “It’s good to meet you. I’ll see you around.”

Flaherty and his FDNY comrades then traveled the 190 miles between Boston and New York that Kennedy had made feel like no distance at all as measured by spirit. They were just arriving home when they heard there had been a bad fire in Boston. Two firefighters had been trapped in a basement and died.

Flaherty called an FDNY lieutenant who was still up in Boston. The lieutenant was staying at the same hotel and had seen BFD’s Ladder 15 and Engine 33 roll out of their firehouse after an alarm came into the house watch where the WTC steel and the holy card for the fallen New York firefighter are kept as a kind of shrine.

The lieutenant had followed on foot and was standing near the scene of the fire as he now spoke to Flaherty on a cell phone. Flaherty told him that he had stopped by that same firehouse just before leaving.

“I was talking to this guy, Mike Kennedy,” Flaherty said.

“Kennedy? He’s dead, bro,” the lieutenant said. “He’s the first one they pulled out.”

Flaherty told the other pipe band members and they all stood stunned in the knowledge that their new Boston brother had been killed not two hours after they left him. Flaherty was reminded of New York brothers he had been with just before 9/11, not imagining he would never see them again.

“A September 10 moment,” Flaherty later said.

In the news accounts following the fire, Flaherty read that Kennedy had served with the Marines in Iraq. Kennedy’s firehouse had been first due at the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. He had aided the wounded just as he had in the combat zone.

And it all fit with what Flaherty had felt so strongly and clearly during their brief meeting.

“This is a class act,” Flaherty said.

On April 3, Flaherty and 40 other band members traveled to Boston along with a contingent of other New York firefighters. They joined 10,000 firefighters from seemingly everywhere at the funerals for Kennedy and the firefighter who died with him, Lt. Eddie Walsh.

“Definitely well attended,” Flaherty said.

Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang at both services, just as he had so many times in New York after 9/11. A soaring “Ave Maria” and a tender “Danny Boy” marked the passing of two more brothers.

Twelve days later, Tynan sang in Boston again, this time "God Bless America" at the observance of the first anniversary of the marathon bombings. And to New Yorkers who had lived though 9/11 it seemed in so many ways to be a tale of one city.

“It definitely echoes back,” Flaherty said.

A reminder of the bond between the two cities comes with the quick application tourniquets that New York firehouses have begun keeping on hand since the Boston bombings left so many people with catastrophic injuries.

“A couple of twists,’ Flaherty said of the life-saving speed with which the tourniquets can be applied should New York be struck again.

And with the FDNY pipe band there is the memory of the Boston firefighter named Mike Kennedy.

“What a great guy,” said Flaherty from New York.