Hotel Vendome Fire 50th anniversary ceremony honors nine fallen firefighters

On June 17, a remembrance ceremony was held for the nine firefighters who lost their lives in the four alarm Hotel Vendome Fire 50 years ago—the largest tragedy in the history of the Boston Fire Department.

Fire Lieutenant Thomas J. Carroll, Fire Lieutenant John E. Hanbury, Firefighter Charles E. Dolan, Firefighter Joseph P. Saniuk, Firefighter John E. Jameson, Firefighter Thomas W. Beckwith, Firefighter Paul J. Murphy, Firefighter Richard B. Magee, and Firefighter Joseph E. Boucher, Jr., all died after a portion of the Back Bay hotel building collapsed. They left behind eight wives and 23 children. 

The 50th anniversary remembrance ceremony was held at the Vendome Hotel Fire Memorial on the Dartmouth St. section of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, which was dedicated in 1997 on the 25 anniversary of the fire. 

The event was emceed by former Boston Herald columnist and current writer for The Athletic Steve Buckley, and featured several speakers, including Edward Kelly, president of the International Association of Firefighters, and Richard Magee, a retired district fire chief whose father, Richard B. Magee, passed away in the fire. He recalled his memories of that day when he realized his father did not survive the fire. 

Magee said he was 17 years old the last time he saw his father. He was coming home from work, and his father was on his way out to the Vendome fire. Later that day, his sister came to the corner where Magee was hanging out with friends and told him that “dad’s been hurt at a fire,” he said. “A chill went through me. I thought, ‘something bad happened.’”

He said his father was in the rear of the building when the collapse happened after the fire had blazed for nearly three hours. Magee said his grandfather had found Richard B. Magee’s helmet. “He knew he didn’t make it,” Magee said. 

Remarks were also provided by Boston Fire Commissioner Jack Dempsey, Boston Fire Chaplain Rev. Daniel J. Mahoney, as well as Mayor Michelle Wu, who became emotional as she told the crowd about her own loss of family members to a fire. 

“I’m struggling to keep it together today,” Wu said, through tears. “A little over one year ago, my family lost three of our own seemingly in a flash when flames overwhelmed their home in the early hours of the morning.”

Wu said she lost an uncle, an aunt, and their daughter, who was the flower girl in her wedding.

“I know personally just what your family members gave up so that someone else would not have to experience this,” she said. “We are forever grateful. No firefighter fights alone.”

Wu also talked about that day in 1972. “It was Bunker Hill Day,” she said/ “While our city was celebrating in Charlestown or watching the Red Sox game, the Boston Fire Department did what they’ve always done. They rushed to the call. They continue to do this today: rushing toward danger to keep the rest of us safe.”

Photos of each of the nine firefighters were displayed in front of the stage, and flowers were placed at each of their names on the memorial at the end of the ceremony.  

The City Council also “adopted a resolution commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Hotel Vendome Fire with grateful appreciation and heartfelt regret in recognition and memory of the lives of the nine firefighters lost in the line of duty,” according to the City of Boston website. 

The full recording of the ceremony can be found on the Boston Fire Department YouTube channel.

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