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Tom Finneran: Boston’s Brothers, Worcester’s Widows

Friday, April 04, 2014


May the brothers, the jakes, and the widows find the peace that flows from lives well lived, hopes Tom Finneran.

A dark and melancholy cloud hangs overhead today. It has not budged in a week. No matter the news from the outside world—the arrival of April, Opening Day, Red Sox victories, stirrings of Spring—nothing seems to move the cloud.

The loss of two brothers

Our hearts are heavy. Our mood is sad. Our thoughts are with lonely and frightened families. We have lost two brothers.

Those who are in the fire service call each “jakes” or “brothers”. Theirs is a bond forged in frightful flames, crashing timbers, and constant danger. We, the civilians they serve, we sprint as far and as fast as we can, away from the horrid flaming scene. These jakes, these brothers, sprint into it. Always lots of guts, sometimes tragic heartbreaking glory……………

The funerals are spectacular pageants of brotherhood and loyalty. Yet the ache remains. I have known firefighters who died on the job. God does it hurt to remember. It’s as if one’s mind knows the tormented scene so well that it closes it off from active memory.

Memorable eulogies, prayers piled on prayers, flowers, cards, somber public officials, mournful private citizens all have their place in the process of burying these two brave men. It is truly right and just that the community stands with the families of the fallen.

Inevitably, necessarily, we will return to our daily toil. The world turns and waits for no man. And our return to daily routines is precisely what the fallen jakes would want and expect us to do…….to live, to laugh, and above all, to love.

It’s a morbid and heartbreaking thought to consider what we would be prepared to do if we could just grant the simple but precious chance for them to say a last goodbye. A long hug, a tender kiss for their spouse, a few brave words to sons and daughters, a final joke with brothers and sisters, a loving thank you to shattered parents………..there are lessons here for all of us.

Six firefighters, six widows

Once upon a time—the date was December 3, 1999—I was at a holiday event in Boston with some firefighters when word spread through the hall that there was “a big fire” in Worcester. Moments later, word spread that some firefighters were trapped in the building. Confused civilians milled about, some quietly praying for a happy ending. Purposeful firefighters moved quickly to their cars, their instincts honed to the needs of frightened families.

There was no happy ending that night. Six firefighters ended their shift in heaven. Six widows held on to their children and put on a brave face. An empty place at the head of the table, an empty favorite chair, an empty bed, and a string of sad and empty special moments---Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, graduations, weddings, newborns, all carrying the sharp pain of memories of those no longer here.

Our lost Boston brothers—Michael Kennedy and Edward Walsh—knew the hazards and stepped forward anyway. They helped save every single civilian in that burning building and they helped save their fellow jakes from the torment of death. They died so that others could live.

A happy ending

I’ll close with a story that has a happy ending, a story that sheds light on these special men, those who are living and those who have died.

The scene is Boston, the date is November 13, 2007, and the story is told by John Drake, a reporter for the Boston Globe:

“………….Boston firefighters Renard Miller, Joe Walsh, and William Kenneally then worked to rescue the boy and girl, believed to be about five, from the third floor. “When I got there a gentleman said there were two kids on the third floor,” Miller said. “I opened up a couple of doors and I heard a faint cry.” With dense black smoke surrounding him, Miller said he rubbed his hand along the bed’s surface until he felt a child. “The baby seemed lifeless,” he said. “The baby was just limp in my arms.”

He said he took off his mask and held it over the baby’s face. Miller said he then handed the toddler to Kenneally who carried him down along a stepladder. Walsh pulled out the girl who was standing near a window. “We all helped out,” Walsh said. “It seemed we were up there for a long time.” A happy ending, this time.

Remember those words—I heard a faint cry. The cry of a frightened child. Bravery poured forth, skill shown, lives saved. Quite a story. Quite a legacy. It’s not the only one. May the brothers, the jakes, and the widows find the peace that flows from lives well lived.


Related Slideshow: 13 Biggest Stories of 2013

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# 13

Best Communities

What's the best community in Central Massachusetts? What is the best place in the region to live, whether you're a young single, a starting family, or empty-nesters? What city or town combines affordability, safety, schools, arts, culture and recreation and nightlife in the very best balance?

GoLocalWorcester's 2nd Annual Central Massachusetts' Best Communities extracted from our Massachusetts' Best Communities 2013 survey, which took a close, analytical look at all 72 cities and towns in the region to come up with that very answer.

After more than 100 hours of analyzing thousands of data points, we found the answer for 2013.

Read one of our best read -- and most debated -- stories of 2013 here.

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Fraudulent Foreclosures

In January, GoLocal reported that five of the nation’s largest banks were in violation of an agreement with the federal government in Massachusetts, according to an investigation of local foreclosure affidavits conducted by GoLocalWorcester.

The investigation involved nearly 200 affidavits from Ally, Bank of America, Citi, Chase, and Wells Fargo filed with the Registry of Deeds in Worcester and Essex Counties and found that these documents had been expedited and signed without required knowledge of the signer, which is in violation of federal standards banks agreed to uphold with the federal government.

Read the groundbreaking piece here.

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Cronut Controversy

In case you missed it -- or in case you didn't follow saga this summer -- New York City was buzzing about the latest dessert craze to hit the streets -- cronuts.

The croissant-donut hybrid was wildly popular, with throngs of New Yorkers flocking to to SoHo baker Dominique Ansel’s eatery for the flaky fried concoction.

However, what many New Yorkers might not have known -- but many Worcesterites already did -- was that Chef Alina Eisenhauer of Sweet has been making them for years as "dosants," stemming from a fateful night when she decided to toss leftover croissant dough into a deep fryer.

How did the cronut - dosant debate come to pass? Read GoLocal's coverage here.

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Boston Bomber's Burial

One of 2013's biggest stories in Worcester came as a result of one of the most tragic stories of the year.

On Saturday, May 4, GoLocal reported that the preparation for the funeral for Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, would be held at Worcester's Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors on Main Street. The bomber died as a result of both being wounded in a gunfight with police and blunt force trauma, according to the coroners' report. The funeral parlor, located at 838 Main Street, has been performing services since 1864.

"We take pride in having been able to serve others in time of need. Known for our compassionate personal touch, we consider each family we serve as being a part of our own family," the funeral home's Web site states. "We always provide our families with compassion, understanding and unparalleled level of service. We believe that personal service and attention to the needs of the family are the most important responsibilities, before, during and after the funeral service."

Read GoLocal's coverage here.

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Jet Blue Comes to Worcester

After months of anticipation, JetBlue finally announced it was scheduled to fly out of Worcester's ORH. The solidified deal comes after a long process of courting the area, as officials visited the regional airport multiple times, over the last year.

Read how the deal was secured here .

When JetBlue was welcomed to OHR in April it was one of the biggest political events in the entire state in 2013.

Revisit the big day here.

Back in March of 2012, just after GoLocalWorcester.com launched, the digital news site broke one of the biggest news stories of the year - the demise of Direct Air. The fledgling airline had been the only carrier at Worcester Airport. Follow the timeline of the Worcester Airport's most recent history.

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Fresolo Flap

The big story in Worcester on March 22 was that State Representative John Fresolo was under investigation by House Speaker Robert DeLeo regarding "serious allegations" -- and soon, a Facebook page was created calling for his resignation over allegations that he took photographs of of his genitals and distributed those photos in the state workplace.

When the House Ethics Committee met in closed-door meetings to look into the matter, GoLocal took a look at just how transparent -- or not -- government was in the Commonwealth (with grades ranging from an A, to an F).

Fresolo resigned on May 22 , with speculation that questionable per diem driving expenses may have been at the heart of the matter -- not just photos.

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Central Massachusetts' Most Violent Towns

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See how Central MA communities ranked Here .

For 2012, the FBI estimated that nationally, the number of property crimes decreased .9 percent -- but that violent crimes increased .7 percent, which the FBI reported was virtually unchanged when compared to the 2011 rate.

"What this year's data show is that that everything's fairly level -- not very surprising," said Northeastern Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy James Alan Fox. "We've seen a long term slow decline and a plateau. It's a criminal justice limbo stick"

"Police officials and politicians say they want to drive crime down more, which might not be possible," said Fox. "At this point, I think the challenge is to see that it doesn't go back up."

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Slots Turned Down

When Rush Street Gaming pulled the plug on June 4 for their $240 million slots parlor proposal, it was just over two months after the slots developers had kicked of talks with Worcester officials regarding their intentions.

Once developments moved forward at that time, GoLocal took a look at the players involved when Worcester was in serious contention for the Commonwealth's sole slots-parlor license, sharing the scoop on the players involved, what was at stake for Worcester -- and what the time frame is looked like.

The City Council called for public input in the process , and faced stiff opposition from the community along the way, before the proposal ultimately met its demise.

While consideration of casino -- and slots parlor -- proposals are still taking place in other parts of Commonwealth, this chapter of Worcester's history -- one of 2013's biggest stories -- is closed for now.

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Best High Schools

In September, GoLocalWorcester's 2nd Annual Massachusetts' Top High Schools unveiled the proprietary ranking that crunched hundreds of pieces of data from 345 public, charter and technical schools statewide to reveal how our communities' schools provide for their students.

With school quality a cornerstone of real estate values and a crucial element of civic pride, the quantitative analysis of each school provided a sweeping and comprehensive view of the secondary school educational landscape in Massachusetts -- and is now annually one of GoLocal's biggest reads.

Find out how high schools in Central Mass ranked against each other here .

See how all of the high schools in the Commonwealth fared here .

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American Hustle

Worcester was buzzing with Hollywood A-list excitement in April , when production began on the at-the-time untitled David O. Russell movie starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and other top Hollywood names.

The screenplay, written by Eric Singer, is about the FBI's 1970-80 "Abscam" sting operation based out of Long Island. The operation aimed to root out corruption in public office and led to the conviction of a US Senator, a member of the New Jersey Senate, five members of the House of Representatives, an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and members of the Philadelphia City Council. The movie also lists Robert DeNiro, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Louis C.K. as among its cast.

The movie that boosted the local economy is now vying for top Hollywood accolades

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Restaurant Violations

In August, GoLocal unveiled a week-long series on restaurant health inspections in Worcester, from all restaurants to fast food chains -- and created a proprietary interactive map based on the information uncovered.

GoLocal found that the City of Worcester conducted over 2,000 inspections of 1,427 establishments in 2012, with 5 full time food inspectors.

In total, the Worcester Department of Inspections investigated nearly 200 general food complaints in 2012, investigating 11 foodborne illness complaints -- 3 of which involved two or more people -- and issued 9 license suspensions, but no license revocations.

After weeks of combing through the paper food inspection files found on the third floor of 25 Meade Street, GoLocalWorcester listed the restaurants with the most amount of violations found, from number fifty down to number one . Not surprisingly, it was one of the most well-read GoLocal stories of all time.

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O'Brien Leaving

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For his service, GoLocal recognized O'Brien as Man of the Year in 2013. From CitySquare to the development of the Mass College of Pharmacy campus, to the redevelopment of Union Station and the creation of Worcester Common Oval Ice Skating – they have all been driven by the careful leadership of Michael O’Brien.

Naturally, the who will be the next City Manager will be something to watch in 2014.  Stay tuned.  

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Future of the T&G

For nearly 150 years, the Worcester Telegram (in one form or another) was the source of local news, but in the past decade the dramatic loss of circulation, advertising and relevance has caused the paper to be a bit of a cultural afterthought.

At the end of October, GoLocal looked at the recent history of Telegram and its significant decline. In the past 18 months, GoLocal tracked the layoffs, the environmental contamination at the Telegram headquarters, the decline of circulation and the sale of the paper by the New York Times Company in a package with the Boston Globe.

Read the story here .

GoLocal then took a look at John Henry's silence on the T&G after purchasing it along with the Boston Globe -- and GoLocal's Dean Starkman weighed in when Henry finally said that the T&G would be up for sale at the end of November.

Starkman remains bullish on the T&G's future "Here is a newspaper with a 147-year presence in the community, and one of the few that can claim to have been founded by a dentist!), with daily circulation still at a reasonably healthy 75,000 and declining at a slower rate than the Providence Journal, its formerly dominant rival 40 miles away. And, most importantly, its newsroom that, thanks to its otherwise indifferent owners at The New York Times Company, is more or less intact. At last count, it had more than 60 staffers on its masthead. Journalistically speaking, that’s enough to do some damage. What’s more, the Massachusetts economy is doing better than most regionally, certainly better than Rhode Island’s. So there seemed to be a chance for something good to happen in Worcester."


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