Sunday, December 4, 2011


Heroes felled by fire recalled

Service held at fire station



By Susan Spencer TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

Photo galleries
• SLIDESHOW: Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse Fire anniversary
http://www.telegram.com/apps/pbcs.dl...ctionCat=local


WORCESTER — Twelve years ago, on Dec. 3, 1999, Worcester Fire Department Dispatcher Margaret E. “Maggie” Wilson took the first call about smoke coming from the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co., and at 6:13 p.m. dispatched Fire Alarm Box 1438 for 266 Franklin St.

Five alarms would be called that night, and before the fire burned out after raging for six days, six firefighters — two of whom Ms. Wilson knew personally — would lose their lives while trying to rescue homeless people they thought were inside.

The homeless people who accidentally started the fire, Julie Ann Barnes and Thomas Levesque, were not in the century-old, fortress-like warehouse at the time, it turned out.

Ms. Wilson, who retired several years ago, was among the 100 to 200 people who attended a brief memorial service last night at the Franklin Street Fire Station, the site of the former warehouse. She has come to the site each year, like so many others touched by the tragedy, to pause and remember.

Shortly after 6 p.m., members of the Worcester Fire Brigade Pipes and Drums, joined by pipe and drum bands from other areas, including Boston, Brockton and Rhode Island, marched solemnly behind a color guard to the illuminated firefighters' memorial erected in front of the new fire station.

At 6:13 p.m., Worcester Fire Department Lt. Stephen Connole recited the fire box alarm and read the honor roll for the fallen firefighters: Lt. Thomas E. Spencer, Ladder 2; Lt. Timothy P. Jackson Sr., Ladder 2; Lt. James F. Lyons III, Engine 3; Firefighter Joseph T. McGuirk, Engine 3; Firefighter Paul A. Brotherton, Rescue 1; and Firefighter Jeremiah M. Lucey, Rescue 1.

As bagpipes wailed a mournful “Amazing Grace,” a large wreath bearing six red ribbons was placed on the granite memorial panels.

For a moment, the assembled crowd stood hushed in the night, silently recalling the men who had given so much.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Ms. Wilson said about the night of the fire. “You did your job, but you couldn't believe it was really happening.”

After 12 years, she said, “The outer wounds have healed, but the scars are still there.”

The evening memorial brought members of the firefighting brethren from across the region.

Firefighter John J. Maguire, of Engine 22 in Boston's South End, attended in dress uniform to pay his respects.

“It's what you do,” he said.

Firefighter Maguire said he began working as a firefighter about a year after the Worcester tragedy, but was struck by the “sea of blue” he saw marching at the funeral procession in support of those who died.

He said he thinks about the Worcester tragedy as he performs his duties, but, “You don't let it get to you; it would drive you crazy. You just have to be ready to accept your fate.”

Daniel M. Hicks, a registered nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center and a private call firefighter with the Uxbridge Fire Department, recalled that the night of the fire he had just gotten off work at the hospital and returned home when his father asked him what was going on in Worcester. He called the Uxbridge Fire Department and heard the news.

Although Uxbridge wasn't among the several mutual-aid fire departments that joined the efforts to battle the blaze and search for the fallen, he said he took care of some of the injured firefighters at the hospital.

“You kind of think of your own vulnerability and how easy it is for anyone to get hurt in a fire,” he said.

Mr. Hicks said he has tried to come almost every year to the memorial event.

He also observed that even small fire departments like Uxbridge have been affected by the Worcester Cold Storage fire in how they train for firefighting and in rescue techniques. “It's changed the face of firefighting throughout the country,” he said.

Brockton Fire Department Lt. Stanley J. Burrell III, who played snare drum in the pipe and drum band and has participated in the annual memorials almost every year, said, “These guys gave it their all. It was the supreme sacrifice.”

He likened the Worcester Cold Storage fire and the outpouring of support to the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the firefighting community — and the public — rallied behind the New York firefighters.

“Any firefighter knows what any other firefighter is going through,” Lt. Burrell said.

Lt. Connole said that last night was much like the night of the fire: It was cold and clear, and it immersed him in memories of that horrific night, when he was on duty.

“It's a personal thing for me to be here,” Lt. Connole said. “When Dec. 3 comes around, you go right back to that night.”
Photo.. Family and friends gather around the monument in front of the Franklin Street Fire Station yesterday during a memorial service for the six firefighters who died fighting the Cold Storage Warehouse fire 12 years ago. (T&G Staff/STEVE LANAVA)


http://www.telegram.com/article/2011...766/1101/local