Claremont Fire Lt. Andrew Stevens will always remember Michael Kennedy, one of two Boston firefighters killed in the line of duty last week. Kennedy had visited Stevens while the Claremont firefighter was hospitalized with injuries suffered fighting a house fire March 2.
Back home last week, Stevens felt a personal connection as he followed the updates about an inferno raging in an apartment building in Boston's Back Bay on Wednesday. His concerns gave way to shock when he learned Kennedy, a 33-year-old former Marine with a quick wit, was dead.
"Kennedy was just one of those guys that was just full of life. He walked in the room, and within a minute he had us chuckling and laughing," Stevens recalled. "Just a very friendly, likeable guy."
Stevens plans to go to Boston this week to offer his respects, both personally and professionally, as Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh, also killed in the fire, are laid to rest.
"Typically, I go to any and all that I can," Stevens said, referring to services for fallen firefighters. "I definitely won't miss this one."
Stevens plans to drive down Wednesday for Walsh's funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Patrick's Church in Watertown. He will stay the night, then go to Kennedy's funeral at 11 a.m. Thursday at Holy Name Church in West Roxbury. If he can, Stevens will attend a wake Wednesday afternoon for Kennedy following the service for Walsh.
And Stevens won't be alone; other firefighters from the Granite State will also head south to honor the memories of their fallen comrades.
Firefighters share a bond through the inherent dangers of the job. When one doesn't make it out of a burning building, they all are reminded that they, too, could be victims someday.
"I would expect there would be people from all over the country to pay their respects to these two firefighters," said Rick Bergeron, chief of the Claremont Fire Department.
Manchester Fire Department District Chief Jim Michael said he and Chief James Burkish plan to drive down.
Michael said Manchester will be well-represented by firefighters who are not on duty and able to make the trip.
"We've got guys going both days," Michael said,
Stevens also wanted to extend his gratitude to the Boston Firefighters Burn Foundation, which he described as a "well-oiled machine" whose members acted quickly when they learned he was being flown down from Claremont the night of March 2. He said members had already reached his parents by the time they were still a half-hour north of Boston and were there to greet them at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"They were absolutely amazing to me and my family," he said. "The words they used were: 'We don't want you to worry about anything but him.'"
The Foundation found Stevens' parents a room in a hotel near the hospital and gave them gift cards for whatever they needed and didn't have time to grab in a rush to get moving on the 120-mile drive south to Boston.
Foundation members stayed with the parents as Stevens was treated for second- and third-degree burns and admitted to the hospital, then formed a rotation of daily visitors who dropped by and lifted the spirits of a fellow firefighter injured in the line of duty.
"Guys stopped in every single day I was there to make sure there was nothing that I needed," he said.
"Sometimes multiple times."
Stevens said Kennedy came by on his second day at the hospital and immediately stood out among a small group of visitors.
"I can't say enough about how great that program is and how kind and nice he was," he said.