The sounds of drums and bagpipes filled the air as family, friends and thousands of firefighters from across the country gathered to honor the life of one of two Boston firefighters killed while battling a West Roxbury restaurant fire last week.
Engine 30 carried the body of Paul J. Cahill, 55, past his firehouse to Holy Name Church in West Roxbury, as firefighters saluted the fallen hero's flag-draped coffin.
More than 30,000 firefighters from the U.S. and Canada came together to bid farewell to Cahill and fellow firefighter Warren Payne, who also perished in the restaurant fire.
Cahill's wife of 34 years, Anne, and their children led a procession of mourners into the church, where a Catholic Mass and memorial service were held. A firefighter carried Cahill's helmet into the church, and his boots were placed facing backward, signifying that the firefighter has answered his last alarm.
"There is an absence of words to describe the love I have for my father. It??s not due to lack of vocabulary, they just don??t exist. I could always rely on him for reassurance that the sun would rise regardless of how terrible the day has been. I consider this just a dark day, but to my joy, and I am sure to his, I can see the sun has already begun to break through," said Cahill's son, Adam Cahill.
"Pain is all too often a part of the life of firefighters and their families, and we always struggle through it," the Rev. Dan Mahoney said during the homily. "The line of those who mourn goes from firehouse to firehouse, from coast to coast across America, and this morning to Canada and to Dublin, Ireland; that is apparent here today."
Edward Kelly, president of Boston Firefighters Local 718, shared some memories of his colleague and Cahill had an impact on everyone he met.
"Paul and Warren died as servants to this neighborhood and the entire city of Boston," Kelly said. "In as much as they are terribly missed, they are happily remembered. As we continue to mourn their deaths, we hold onto the many reasons we celebrate their lives."
Kelly spoke about the dinner the firefighters shared the night of the deadly fire. Cahill had just returned from a family vacation in Maine and was expected to rejoin his family after his shift.
"Paul was a good man, a kind man, always smiling and telling funny stories. He took great pleasure in making people laugh. It was impossible not to like him," Kelly said. "Paul was describing the island up in Maine that he pronounced five different ways. Because he said it so many ways, none of us knew where he had been. Paul was looking forward to heading back to Maine that next morning."
Cahill was awarded the International Association of Firefighters Medal of Honor. The medal has been given to 1,386 firefighters killed in the line of duty since its inception in 1990. As a final tribute, Engine 30 firefighter Peter Starkey ran a firefighter's bell to represent Cahill's final journey. He is being laid to rest at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.
"Today, firefighters from across the nation and around the world will be paying tribute to our lost brothers. It seems like yesterday when 30,000 firefighters came to Worcester to pay their respects to our lost brothers," said Frank Raffa, president of the Worcester Firefighters Local 1009 Union. His city lost six firefighters in a warehouse fire in 1999.
Raffa said that Cahill and Payne spent two weeks in Worcester supporting the city's department after the warehouse fire.
Cahill, of Scituate, and Payne, of Canton, were killed last Wednesday in the fire at the Tai Ho Chinese restaurant. The West Roxbury Fire Fund has been established for the Cahill and Payne families at the Boston Firefighters Credit Union.
Funeral services for Payne will be held Friday at United House of Prayer for All People in Dorchester.