Boston has certainly had its share of losing firefighters in the line of duty and only last March, the city mourned the loss of two firemen battling a blaze in an abandoned apartment building in the Back Bay. The Vendome disaster in June, 1972 claimed the lives of 9 firemen. Fifty years ago this week, the city was saddened at the loss of five firemen battling a midnight blaze in the South End.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 1, 1964, firemen from the fire station on Harrison Ave behind the Cathedral responded to an abandoned brick building ablaze at 34 Trumbull Street in the South End. Trumbull Street was a cobbled cowpath like alleyway that ran parallel between West Brookline and Canton Street. Laying down hoses, a front wall collapsed in two sections, killing four and a ‘spark’ by the name of Andrew Sheehan. A fifth firefighter (Jim Sheedy) died later that morning at City Hospital.
Returning from Rome for a Vatican II session that weekend, Cardinal Cushing got word of the tragedy and made arrangements for the five to be laid to rest from Holy Cross Cathedral.
The five firefighters were:
Robert J. Clougherty, 31, came from a family of 14 in Charlestown. He was married and a father of two children. On the night of the fire, his Dad, John E. Clougherty was assistant fire chief and in charge of operations. Receiving word of his son’s death at the scene, he refused to leave until the fire was contained and the area secured. He was waked at the Wiley Funeral Home in Thompson Square and laid to rest at St. Mary Cemetery in Dorchester. His family had a long and proud heritage of service in the BFD.
Lt. John J. Geswell, 40, came from a large family in Charlestown. He was appointed to the BFD on April 27, 1955. Upon marrying, he settled in Dorchester and was the father of three year old Denise and one year old John who went on to become a lieutenant in the BFD. He was waked at the O’Brien Funeral Home in South Boston and laid to rest at Blue Hill Cemetery.
James B. Sheedy, 37, was appointed on July 16, 1958. A veteran of World War II, he married Mary (Truscello) and settled in the Fields Corner section of Dorchester. Over the summer, he recovered from the effects of smoke inhalation while battling the Bellflower Street fire in Dorchester on May 22. In addition to his wife, he left behind two sons, Michael, 11 and James, Jr., 9 and a daughter, Marie, 4. He was waked at the Dolan Funeral Home in Dorchester and laid to rest at Blue Hill Cemetery.
Francis L. Murphy, 42, came from South Boston. After graduating from Gate of Heaven High School, he served with the Marines in World War II and attended Boston College. He left behind his mother and two sisters. He was waked at the O’Brien Funeral Home with John Geswell and laid to rest at New Calvary Cemetery. On May 23, 1965, an MDC ice skating rink in the city point section of South Boston was named in his honor. He loved hockey and skating and coaching area youths.
Lt. John McCorkle, 53, lived in Dorchester with his wife and four children. The date of his death was the 25th anniversary of his wedding. He was laid to rest in New Calvary Cemetery. In South Boston at Castle Island, a fishing pier has been named after him.
Andrew Sheehan, 25 lived in Milton. He knew the South End well, having been a 1958 graduate of Cathedral High School. He was well known among firefighters at the Harrison Ave station. A ‘spark’ and photographer, he died later in the morning at City Hospital, leaving behind his parents and four siblings. He was laid to rest from St. Agatha Church in Milton and interred at Milton Cemetery.
On Sunday, October 5, 2014, Fr. Dan Mahoney, long time pastor of St. Francis de Sales Church and BFD chaplain will preside at Mass in memory of the deceased firemen and Andrew Sheehan at 11 a.m. A committee formed for the occasion contacted family members of the deceased and have arranged for a luncheon to follow in the parish hall. All are welcome to attend. The date coincides with the actual date of the funeral for the five at Holy Cross Cathedral. A grieving Cardinal Cushing delivered a touching tribute with these words:
“There is one lesson we should all learn from the deaths of these heroic men. We are accustomed to take fire fighters and other public servants for granted. Remember, please, whenever we pass a fire house in the future, that the next alarm the men therein will answer, may be their last.”