Mass. community remembers fallen firefighters

Six firefighters were killed while battling a storage fire Dec. 3, 1999


By Cyrus Moulton
Telegram & Gazette

WORCESTER, Mass. — Seventeen years ago, Crystal Jackson stood outside the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire certain that her brother, Tim, had gone into the building to help find fellow Worcester firefighters trapped inside.

Ms. Jackson and hundreds of others returned to the scene Saturday night, remembering Lt. Timothy P. Jackson Sr. and his comrades who never made it out of the building alive.

 In this 2001 file photo, a display case in the lobby of the Worcester Fire Department Grove Street station memorializes six firefighters who were killed at the cold storage warehouse fire Dec. 3, 1999, in Worcester, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
In this 2001 file photo, a display case in the lobby of the Worcester Fire Department Grove Street station memorializes six firefighters who were killed at the cold storage warehouse fire Dec. 3, 1999, in Worcester, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

“It’s just like being there 17 years ago, I was out here all night ... I had a gut feeling that he went in,” said Ms. Jackson at the annual commemoration of the fatal fire. “It feels good that [the city’s] not forgetting, you know. I’ll come here every year.”

Firefighters from Worcester and the region gathered at the Franklin Street Fire Station to pay homage to firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk, and Lts. Thomas E. Spencer, James F. “Jay” Lyons III, and Lt. Jackson. - who died in the Dec. 3, 1999 blaze.

“It’s amazing how time goes but when you get here, all the things that happened come back,” said retired Worcester firefighter Bob Miller. “We all worked with those guys; you can compare it to D-Day or Pearl Harbor; it was our Day of Infamy.”

Retired Worcester firefighter Ed Marshall agreed.

“It’s traumatic really, we think of them every day,” Mr. Marshall said.

Despite the cold and biting wind, the jakes were joined by many civilians and city officials of all ages lining the street around the fire station and memorial which were built on the site of the blaze.

“I feel like I need to come,” said Steve Patton, the District 1 councilor at the time of the fire. “It tore a hole in my heart, I stood out here for a week not knowing what to do.”

Mayor Joseph M. Petty agreed.

“It’s good to come out and remember and show the people of Worcester have not forgotten,” Mr. Petty said. “The community comes out every year in force.”

Many of those in the crowd came to support friends and family who were firefighters.

“It’s the best way to show our support to the families (of the deceased), and it’s a constant reminder of how hard our significant others work every day,” said Audrey Horan, of Holden, the wife of a Worcester firefighter.

The commemoration was simple. An honor guard accompanied the Worcester Fire Brigade Pipes and Drums on a short march to the memorial. The crowd of about 300 grew silent as the time of the fire approached, and at 6:13 p.m., the call went out that the box was “struck.”

The Rev. Walter J. Riley, the Fire Department’s Catholic chaplain, offered a brief prayer as a sad rendition of "Amazing Grace" filled the air and a wreath was placed on the memorial.

“We never anticipated this ... I’m sure none of us did,” said Steve Provost, a retired fire lieutenant on Ladder 1, who recalled working on the night of the fire. “It hit hard; it was a long night.”

Mr. Provost was joined by four of his five children, grandchildren, his wife, and some friends, and said he will be at the commemoration every year.

“I’ve said to them, if you’re ever missing me, you can find me at the site on December 3,” Mr. Provost said. He said he came to pay respects, remember the night and to reconnect with his fellow firefighters. “Everybody knows everybody and we all did.”

Copyright 2016 Telegram & Gazette

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