Last Wednesday, after they stood in her West Roxbury living room and told Kristen Walsh that her husband, Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward Walsh, had just been killed in the Back Bay, Richie Paris and Ed Kelly wanted to ease her pain.
“What can we do for you, Kristen?” asked Kelly, a Boston firefighter and president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts.
“Anything,” Richie Paris, head of Local 718 of the Boston firefighters, added. “You name it. Anything.”
Kristen Walsh, having just lost the love of her life, her best friend, the father of their three children, had to think about it. Later, she had an idea. She called the Boylston Street firehouse where her husband and Mike Kennedy, who died with him, worked. She told the firefighters from Engine 33 and Ladder 15 that she wanted only one thing: She wanted his wedding band back.
The firefighters in the Boylston Street firehouse vowed to find it.
A check of Ed Walsh’s left hand found it wasn’t there.
Kelly and Paris suggested a top-to-bottom search of the firehouse, but they found nothing.
“All the guys on 33 and 15 said they were sure Eddie had the ring on his finger when he went into that burning building with Mike Kennedy,” Paris said. “Eddie never took his wedding ring off.”
There was only one explanation: The ring had somehow come off Walsh’s finger in the inferno.
As the days passed, Kelly and Paris helped comfort their friends and colleagues, planned funerals, and counted the days until the Fire Investigation Unit took control of the shell of the building where Walsh and Kennedy died. In District Chief Richard Magee Jr., the firefighters from Engine 33 and Ladder 15 had a special ally in hunting down that ring.
Magee was a teenager 42 years ago when his father, Richard Magee Sr., working out of that same Boylston Street firehouse, on the same Engine 33 that Eddie Walsh and Mike Kennedy were working on, died with eight other firefighters at the Hotel Vendome fire, just a few blocks from last Wednesday’s fatal fire.
Chief Magee vowed they would find that ring.
Magee’s charges from the investigation unit, Lieutenant Kevin McCarthy and Firefighters Richard Taylor and Patricia Kenneally Donovan, took charge of the Beacon Street fire scene Tuesday afternoon. They went right for the spot where Walsh’s brother firefighters had pulled out his body.
It was dirty work, sifting through the charred debris and soot. They searched for hours, and at one point Kevin McCarthy worried they would never find it. He and the others were on their hands and knees, like prospectors, just hoping to get lucky.
And just before 6 p.m., Patty Kenneally Donovan, the first woman appointed to the Boston Fire Department and a veteran firefighter whose father, husband, and two brothers were on the job, found the ring.
“I’ve got it!” she yelled, and it was the first joyous moment for an entire department, an entire extended family, indeed a whole city, in a week.
In no time, there was a convoy of fire vehicles heading toward Watertown, where Eddie Walsh’s wake was taking place at St. Patrick’s Church. Kelly and Paris went to the lower church and told Walsh’s and Kennedy’s grieving brother firefighters what had just happened. The firefighters from Engine 33 and Ladder 15 streamed upstairs and approached Kristen Walsh, who was in the front pew of the upper church, a few feet from the casket that held her husband.
Bob Malone, Eddie Walsh’s brother-in-law and a Watertown firefighter, closed in tight, too.
Kristen Walsh was now surrounded by everybody she and her husband cared about.
A week after they broke the worst possible news to Kristen Walsh, Ed Kelly and Richie Paris told her they had some good news. They stepped aside and introduced Chief Magee.
Chief Magee, who knows what it’s like to lose someone you love to duty, just as he knows what the comforting embrace of his brothers and sisters on the job feels like, stepped forward and handed the ring to Eddie Walsh’s widow.
Kristen Walsh took the ring and slid it on her finger. It was big, real big, but it fit in all the ways that matter.