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Boston Firefighter Runs Marathon for Fallen Brothers

By Jessica Heslam

Boston Herald (view full article)

April 9, 2019


Brian Baxter was ironing his trousers for his job interview with the Boston Fire Department when a massive blaze in the Back Bay flashed across the TV newscast.

Soon, Brian learned the inferno had claimed the lives of firefighter Michael Kennedy and Lt. Edward Walsh. The day was March 26, 2014. He never forgot it.

Eventually, Brian fulfilled his childhood dream of becoming a Boston firefighter, stationed at Engine 4 Ladder 24 on Beacon Hill. Although Brian never met Michael, the fallen firefighter’s story made a lasting impression on him. Michael had served in combat in Iraq before becoming a firefighter.

On that tragic day, Brian was just out of the Marines, having served as a Marine ordnance sergeant in the Middle East. Becoming a firefighter had been his dream since he was 10. He was nervous about the interview. He brought the ironing board down into the living room of his parents’ West Roxbury home.

As Brian’s firefighting journey was just beginning, Michael’s was coming to a devastating end in a fire-filled basement in the Back Bay.

“I run in Mike’s honor because of that moment,” said Brian.

On Monday, Brian, now 30, is running the Boston Marathon in Michael’s honor, one of 37 men and women raising money for the Last Call Foundation, founded by Michael’s mother, Kathleen Crosby-Bell, after her son’s death. The foundation’s mission is to make the job safer for firefighters by raising money for research and equipment.

It’s the second time Brian has run for the foundation. During the last stretch of Monday’s historic race, Brian will run by the Boylston Street fire station where Michael was stationed.

“It’s a special moment,” Brian said. “You’re home free and you always have the guys you work with saying, ‘You’re good. You’re there. Keep going.’”

Brian called Michael’s mother the “nicest lady in the world.”

On Monday, Kathleen plans to stop by Michael’s old firehouse. She’ll cheer her team and host a viewing party overlooking Boylston Street at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where a framed photo of Michael will be on display. Several firefighters are running for the foundation this year but Brian is the only one from Boston.

“He’s just endearing. He was very sweet and kind,” Kathleen said of Brian. “I feel maternal towards those guys. That’s what it inspires.”

Michael, 33 when he died, loved Marathon Monday. He was supposed to run the marathon that year, and his girlfriend, Sarah Wessmann, ran with both their bibs instead. Sarah’s running for the foundation again this year, too.

In 2013, Michael had been working when the bombs exploded near the finish line, just blocks from the Boylston Street firehouse, his mother said, and he was one of the first responders.

Michael had run the Boston Marathon twice in his lifetime and his family always came in to cheer him on, wearing T-shirts that read, “Michael Kennedy our hero.”

“He was our hero,” Kathleen said, “long before he died.”

Now Brian Baxter runs, and answers the call, living up to Michael Kennedy’s example.

Article by Jessica Heslam

on behalf of Boston Herald

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