Lost firefighter’s sons eager to join Mass. department

By Scott J. Croteau
Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.)
Copyright 2006 Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER, Mass. - To keep a family tradition, to honor their father or to follow in his footsteps - Michael P. and Brian G. Brotherton are sure people will think these things as they continue their efforts toward working in the city's Fire Department.

But the two oldest sons of Firefighter Paul A. Brotherton, who died with five comrades in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building fire, know that strapping on a firefighter's turnout gear is something they've wanted since early childhood.

Michael and Brian are on the top of the civil service list for the Fire Department that was recently certified by the state, according to Fire Chief Gerard A. Dio. He received the list, from which the next crop of fire recruits would be chosen, on Dec. 15.

"I just had an interest in it since I was a little kid," Michael said in a telephone interview from his family's home in Auburn. "I went down to the station with my father a few times. The more and more I saw it, I fell in love with it."

Michael, 21, is currently in the U.S. Air Force and serves as a firefighter at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which serves as headquarters for the U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

Brian, 20, is in his junior year at Anna Maria College in Paxton and is working toward a degree in Fire Services.

Although there is no funding for a recruit class in the 2007 fiscal budget, both men will stay on the civil service list for two years and Chief Dio hopes funding will come soon to add new firefighter positions to his department, which currently stands at 406 uniformed positions.

"I always wanted to do it ever since I was 6 years old," Brian said. "It's been the same mind track I've always been on even after the fact of what happened."

Firefighters Paul Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk, and Lts. Timothy P. Jackson, Thomas E. Spencer and James F. "Jay" Lyons died in a fire at the building on Franklin Street on Dec. 3, 1999.

Firefighter Brotherton, 41, was a 16-year veteran of the Worcester Fire Department and a U.S. Air Force veteran. Michael was 14 when his father died.

Firefighters from around the state gathered just a few weeks ago at the site to honor the men. Their names were called beginning at 6:13 p.m., marking the time the first alarm sounded.

"It's always been in my blood," said Michael. "I don't feel I have to do it because my father did.

"I look at it as it is my life and my own way of living," Brian said. "I've wanted to do the things he's done, but I want to focus on this being my path."

Being on the same list and the possibility of joining the department with his older brother has Brian thinking of the movie ``Backdraft," the 1991 film about Chicago firefighters and two brothers who are in the same company.

Denise Brotherton, 47, said all six of her sons want to work in the public sector as their father did and as she does as a nurse.

Steven, 18, and David, 13, both want to become firefighters. Timothy, 16, and Jonathan, 15, both want to be police officers. Jonathan wants to work in Los Angeles, Ms. Brotherton said with a tone of motherly pride.

"I am actually happy because there are so many young men and women who don't know what they want to do," she said.

"I know their father is beaming down on them. I know he is proud of them and me."

Asked if she was concerned about her sons entering into a career that took her husband's life, Ms. Brotherton said in today's society, people in every profession are not safe.

She understands firefighting and being a police officer are dangerous professions, but she believes society has changed so much that many people in other professions now face dangers as well.

The only way for that to change is for society to change, she said.

"Our society is in such chaos," she said.

"She's proud as a peacock," Michael said when asked how his mother feels about her two oldest boys passing the firefighters exam.

They took the test in June. Chief Dio said if any parent dies in the line of duty, their children receive top preference on the civil service list under state general laws.

Firefighters must pass the written examination and a physical examination.

Michael finishes his four-year military service in March and plans to come home. He said serving in the Air Force allowed him to see the world. He had tours in Korea and Guam.

Although Michael hasn't fought a fire in an emergency situation yet, he has been on several medical and accident calls, he said. Since he's been on leave, he has visited the firefighters in the city.

"They keep track of me and are still very involved in my life," he said.

Both men don't want to be treated differently if they get onto the department.

"I just want to be treated equal," Brian said.

"I know some people might see it as he is doing it because his dad did it, but that's not how it is," Michael said, echoing that the brothers wanted this career path for years.

Both are now just eager to move forward after passing the test.

They are hoping a recruit class is funded.

"Once I am on the department, I am living my dream," Brian said.

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