“Something extraordinary happened for them to call a mayday,” MacDonald said.
Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Finn said the 9-alarm fire, which sent smoke and flames pouring from the roof and windows of the brownstone, appeared to have started in the basement but moved quickly throughout the building. Firewalls stopped the flames from consuming adjacent buildings.
“In 30 years, I’ve never seen a fire travel that fast, escalate that quickly and create such havoc in such a short period of time,” he said.
Finn said Walsh and Kennedy had gone down inside stairs into the basement, and he assumed that a front window broke out and blew the fire back at them.
Kennedy was found about 30 minutes later and was pulled from the building but was pronounced dead at a hospital. Walsh’s body was recovered later and was removed in what MacDonald described as “a very solemn ceremony” in which he was carried on a stretcher out the back of the building through a line of saluting firefighters.
Some of the other firefighters were injured when they were blown down stairs by a backdraft explosion caused by the wind, Finn said.
The fire, which began shortly before 3 p.m., was declared under control late Wednesday, but firefighters stayed at the site overnight to extinguish any remaining flames.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley assigned a prosecutor trained to investigate fatal fires to work with fire and police, a probe he said is standard procedure when there is an unattended or unnatural death.
The DA’s office said the two firefighters died a few blocks from the former Hotel Vendome, where nine Boston firefighters were killed in June 1972 when a section of the building collapsed following a fire. A memorial to those men is located in the neighborhood.
Condolences filled the Boston Fire Department’s Twitter page from residents, officials, police and other fire departments - some as far away as Sioux City, Iowa.