Raymond L. Flynn is a former mayor of Boston and former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
As we mark the 75th anniversary of the tragic Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire that claimed 492 lives and led to sweeping reforms regarding safety regulations and building codes, it’s important to remember the wide-ranging impact that fateful night had on the history of our city and nation.
At a commemorative gathering at the Revere Hotel Boston Common yesterday, fire officials, city leaders, local residents and survivors honored the memories of the hundreds who died inside the bustling Bay Village nightclub on the night of Nov. 28, 1942.
In the wake of what was, at the time, the deadliest nightclub fire in history, it was under the outstanding leadership of fire officials that a series of safety reforms were enacted, transforming Boston into a national leader in fire protection and safety.
While speaking at the event yesterday, I told those gathered that it was the professionalism of our extraordinarily capable fire commissioners that inspired thousands of young men to aspire to become firefighters. After serving in the Marine Corps, the Army, Navy or Coast Guard, many of these heroes returned home to proudly wear the uniform of a Boston firefighter — including many of my closest friends growing up.
In the years that followed the fire, mayors were wise to appoint commissioners from within the department and choose candidates who lived in the city because it was widely understood that Boston had the most dedicated and proud men available.
In addition to helping form one of the nation’s best fire departments, we’ve learned a lot about our city over the last 75 years.
Whenever we’re faced with a tragedy like Cocoanut Grove, the strength of our nurses, doctors, EMTs, police officers and firefighters is always on full display — along with the unparalleled ability of our city residents to rally together and heal.
Of course, whenever you discuss emergency responders, there will always be cynics and critics, but as state Rep. Mike Flaherty would often say, “if they think they can do a better job, let them put a uniform on.” Maybe then the courage required to run into a burning building, confront a person armed with a gun, or bring a community together when others try to tear it apart will hit home.
Despite all its imperfections, we love our city and will continue to make it better for everyone.
That’s who we are. We’re Boston — a city that grew out of the ashes to rise like a phoenix.