Remembering a One-of-a-Kind Fireman on International Firefighters’ Day

Jack Kirrane, 1960 Olympic Team captain and toughest defenseman

Today the world honors the brave first responders who every day put their lives on the line in service to those whose own lives must be preserved and protected when fires break out – at home, at work, on the road, anywhere.

It’s fitting that we do this – thank you to all firefighters for your service.

No better day than today to remember one special man was not only a lifelong member of the firefighting profession. He also served his country on the battlefields of Korea, and he led an unlikely contingent of his countrymen to an improbable and storied triumph in the world of sport.

Jack Kirrane of Brookline, Massachusetts is that man. He was captain of the 1960 United States Olympic Hockey Team that won the Gold Medal at Squaw Valley, California.

With all due respect to Mike Eruzione and his merry band from the 1980 games at Lake Placid, the 1960 Olympic victory was the real Miracle on Ice. The Americans ran up a 7-0 record in those games. They went 4-0 against the three best teams in the world: 7-5 vs the Czechs, 3-2 vs, Russia, 2-1 vs. Canada, and then 9-4 vs. the Czechs again for the Gold Medal.

Mitt Romney and his Salt Lake City Olympics organization took the easy way out in 2002 when they had the 1980 team members light the Olympic Flame. They should have given that honor to the 1960 team. Kirrane and coach Jack Riley were both still alive at that point, and they were both in Salt Lake City along with several other team members.

It was a minor miracle that the 1960 team held together and even made it to Squaw Valley in one piece. Just before the games, Riley got the OK from USA Hockey president Walter Brown to add the Cleary brothers, Bill and Bob, to the squad. The team desperately needed more scoring and playmaking. The Clearys had not gone through the pre-Olympics grind with the rest of the team, and some of the players threatened a boycott.

Jack Kirrane would have none of that, telling everyone that if he had to go to California alone to represent America, he’d do it.

As it turned out, that last-minute personnel move made all the difference. The Clearys played brilliantly. There would have been no Gold Medal, and probably no medal at all, without them.   The last man cut to make room for them was Herbie Brooks, who coached the team to Gold 20 years later.

Kirrane had been playing on the international stage as far back as 1948 at St. Moritz. He was the youngest player on his team then. He was the oldest player in 1960.

After the 1948 games he played for the Boston Olympics, which was a feeder team for National Hockey League players. Fernie Flaman, among others, played for the Pics. Kirrane never got an NHL shot, however. He was drafted into the army and shipped off to Korea.

Brookline honors Olympic hockey captain Jack Kirrane.

After serving in Korea, Jack joined the Brookline Fire Department and kept playing high-level amateur hockey. When the tryouts for the 1960 team came along, he took a four-month unpaid leave of absence. He also sold his pickup truck to pay his own way to the tryouts. When he returned to work, he had lost his seniority and had to start at the bottom.

Jack worked as a firefighter for 38 years and retired as a lieutenant. He also managed Harvard’s hockey rink for 15 years. He’s a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, and there’s a rink named for him at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline.

I never knew Jack Kirrane. Everyone who knows and loves Boston sports and ice hockey ought to know who he was and what he did.

I wish that I’d had, at least, the honor of shaking Jack Kirrane’s hand. So today, on International Firefighters’ Day, I’d like to given him a special thank-you, as we all express our gratitude to his teammates on those hook-and-ladder trucks all over the world.

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