Today is the five-year anniversary of the fatal Tai Ho Restaurant fire that took the lives of Boston Firefighters Warren Payne and Paul Cahill.
I was there that night covering it for the Transcript. I don't recall the exact time I hopped into my car after receiving a call from Ed Symkus, who lives in West Roxbury, telling me there was something going on and I better drive to the sound of the sirens.
My girlfriend at the time, Rachel, now my wife, drove with me from our home in Jamaica Plain and we could hear the parade of sirens from across the area meeting at 1727 Centre Street - where the Tai Ho Restaurant stood until that night.
We could smell the smoke as we came down Centre Street towards the Holy Name Rotary. After parking, someone I knew, I don't recall whom, told me one Boston Firefighter had died. The area was quickly yellow-taped, and fearing the fire could be a powder keg, and four storefronts had fire in them, the Boston Police pushed the caution-line back. I quickly ducked under a line only to duck back under within seconds so I could get by a logjam of gathering people. An officer said if I did that again he would arrest me. That was the only time I've been threatened to be arrested while being a journalist. Obviously, the stressful situation had gotten to that officer (and I should've heeded the caution tape).
I talked to police, firefighters if they would, people looking on, politicians at the scene, Rachel - and anyone else around.
Firefighters were exhausted. More and more of them walked away from the scene grabbing for water. For the next couple of days I would see and learn about the firefighter culture, as crews from all around Boston covered for our West Roxbury engine and ladder companies, who were out on injury and recovering.
That night Warren Payne and Paul Cahill passed away. I did not know them personally, but I've heard many stories about them through the years. Payne was a great father and the driver of the firetrucks (no easy skill if you ask a firefighter), while Cahill was known as the firehouse chef. He made a lot of great meals for many of the men who worked that night.
Days after the tragedy their funerals were held with firefighters coming from all around the world to pay their respects to their fallen brethren.
As time went along, reports came out, claims have been made, lawsuits were filed and settled.
But what struck me the most was the camaraderie of the firefighters. It wasn't just about Engine 30 or Ladder 25, it wasn't just about the Boston Fire Department. It was about every firefighter, male or female, across the state, the country and pardon my hyperbole, the world.
I say hello to firefighters when I walk past my local house. I know that while they're sitting there enjoying the summer night, they're one second away from hopping in a truck, possibly to their demise. Hopefully, it's just a pizza box, but sometimes it's several stores.
And five years ago, it could've been more than just two Boston Firefighters who died, but thanks to all of the firefighers that night - it was only two.