Thursday, July 29, 2004

Tribute to Worcester heroes

Six firefighters killed in 1999 blaze

Shaun Sutner

BOSTON- The six Worcester firefighters who perished in a 1999 blaze at a deserted warehouse had their legacy inextricably linked to U.S. Sen. John F. Kerry in a moving tribute to the men yesterday on the third night of the Democratic National Convention.

On the packed convention floor, Frank P. Raffa, president of the Worcester firefighters union, fought back tears as he watched the memorial video for the first time and recalled Firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey, Timothy P. Jackson and Lts. Joseph T. McGuirk, Thomas E. Spencer and James F. Lyons III.

"It was respectful to the families," Firefighter Raffa, who was sitting with the Massachusetts delegation as a representative of the International Association of Firefighters, said after the video clip played about 9:30 p.m.

The video produced by the convention committee earlier this month was shown on the 90-foot screen above the FleetCenter podium and viewed by 20,000 party activists in the arena and millions more watching on television across the country.

The 3-minute clip features footage of the fire; family members, fire officials and firefighters talking about the blaze; and Mr. Kerry at various locations, including the former site of the warehouse near downtown, the city's Grove Street fire headquarters and private homes.

"The fire was building in heat and intensity. It was a monster," District Chief Michael O. McNamee, who commanded responding crews the night of the Dec. 3, 1999 fire, says in the video.

Mr. Kerry, who landed a rare early endorsement from the IAFF during last winter's primary campaign, is admired by many firefighters for his support of funding for firefighting equipment and personnel, firefighters said.

The immediate families of all six firefighters support Mr. Kerry, Firefighter Raffa said.

Denise Brotheton of Auburn, widow of Firefighter Brotherton, speaks approvingly in the video about Mr. Kerry.

After the firefighters died in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building fire almost five years ago, Mr. Kerry immediately cut short an Asian trip, flying a breakneck 24 hours back to Massachusetts for a memorial to the men at the Worcester Centrum Centre.

"He was certainly there for us in those times," District Chief McNamee said. "This is another way to memorialize the sacrifice these guys made.

"Very often, people don't think of us until their world is falling apart and they need us to save them," the district chief, who watched the video from his home in Worcester, continued. "I consider this a true honor."

Also appearing in the video were Patrick Spencer of Worcester, son of fire Lt. Spencer; Firefighter Raffa; and James Glasberg, a firefighter from one of the first-responding companies.

"Never forget those six, never," Firefighter Raffa says in the video.

A large contingent of orange-shirted IAFF members for Kerry were on hand in the convention arena last night.

Earlier, before the prime time video slot, they watched as Harold Schaitberger, president of the IAFF, gave a speech to the delegates.

Mr. Schaitberger said firefighters are more needed than ever in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but "they don't have the staffing, the equipment, the money they need.

"What Americans see in their firefighters - strength, sacrifice, courage - they also see the same qualities in John Kerry," he said.