A day after the tragedy that took the lives of two Boston Firefighters, fifth grader Evy Ayala walked the halls of Mildred Avenue School with a fireman’s boot looking for donations to help.
The boot belongs to her brother, Jerrell Ayala, who worked with the fallen firemen. When swim teacher Lynne Travers saw Evy with her boot, she decided to plan something more.
On Monday, students throughout the school wore red in honor of the fallen firefighters, and Travers invited her friend, Firefighter Jim Walsh (no relation to the late Lt. Ed Walsh Jr.) to speak to some of the students.
“Today was really cool and these kids deserve it,” Travers said after the event Monday.
She was originally planning an assembly for the full school, but because she was working quickly, she ultimately decided on a more intimate setting.
She and 16 students selected for behavior gathered in a room off of the cafeteria, where Walsh met up with them.
Evy, a special needs student, was most interested in the baby daughter Walsh brought in with him.
The first question to Walsh came from fifth grader Ibsael Polanco. “How much courage would it take to become a firefighter?” he asked.
Walsh responded that the job changes every day and certainly takes courage. At the same time, he encouraged everyone in the room to pursue it if they were interested in being a firefighter.
“There’s long hours and sometimes you just want to be home for Christmas and the holidays, but it’s a great job,” Walsh said. “You meet a lot of great people; they’re like a second family.”
Walsh fielded questions for the better part of an hour, answering how heavy the fire suit is (80 pounds) and how to prevent burning your hands while sliding down the fire pole (use your feet).
One student asked if he remembered his first ever call. It was a car accident and he helped people trapped in a vehicle get to the safety of an ambulance.
He also gave advice – dial 911 in an emergency and avoid elevators in case of a fire.
Honors students Destiny Omo and Princess Sawyer-Rodriguez were among the students who got to meet Walsh.
“Why do we wear red today?” Travers asked the two fifth graders Monday.
“To have school spirit,” Princess said. “And to honor the people working for Boston,” Destiny added.
For Travers, having Walsh visit the school was especially important in that it provided a positive male role model for the students. She said students at Mildred Avenue School struggle against negative influences.
Mildred Avenue School is among the lowest performing schools of its type in the state, according to Department of Education test data.
“I’ve gone home at the end of the day crying when I see a kid come in with a bruise,” Travers said. “This is a tough place to work, but I love it.”
Travers downplayed her own role in comparison with Walsh. “I’m only a school teacher,” she said. But Walsh countered with humility of his own – “I’m just a firefighter.”
Seeing how residents came together following the Marathon Tragedy and now for this latest tragedy has been a source of inspiration for Travers.
“It makes you proud to be a part of this city,” she said.