Six fallen Mass. firefighters honored with new memorial

By Bronislaus B. Kush
The Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)

Photo Scott LaPradeSmoke Showing Photography
A memorial depicting the 'Worcester Six' is unveiled Wednesday outside a Worcester, Mass. firehouse.
WORCESTER, Mass. — Gregory Milionis was only 3 when six city firefighters perished after becoming trapped in the raging inferno that engulfed the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building on lower Franklin Street almost a decade ago.

But the sixth-grader at the Goddard School of Science and Technology said he remembers the tragedy clearly, and added that the heroic actions by the doomed men that deadly night have persuaded him to become a firefighter.

"They were pretty brave," said the youngster, now 12.

Time may have soothed the community's pain and shock over the lossof the so-called "Worcester Six," the firefighters from Engine 3, Ladder 2, and Rescue 1 who fearlessly combed the huge brick structure downtown in search of homeless people believed to be living there.

But it hasn't erased the appreciation of the efforts by Firefighters Paul A. Brotherton, Jeremiah M. Lucey and Joseph T. McGuirk, and Lts. Thomas E. Spencer, James F. "Jay" Lyons and Timothy P. Jackson

Yesterday, on the ninth anniversary of the haunting tragedy, a crowd of about 700 gathered in tribute to the fallen firefighters who had responded to Fire Alarm Box 1438.

The firefighters became lost in the dark, mazelike building that, within minutes, became a raging furnace filled with suffocating smokeand poisonous fumes.

"So many people were affected by their deaths," explained Gregory's mother, Darlene Milionis. "Greg has been trying to get me to take him to one of these ceremonies for years and he was so happy when he learned that he'd attend this one."

Fire officials, over the years, have tried to keep the annual service as low-key as possible, saying they didn't want to prolong the heartache of the deceased firefighters' kin.

They also said the fallen firefighters knew the risks of the job when they signed on and would have been embarrassed by all the attention that has been focused on their deaths.

Yet, scores of people from all walks of life joined a small army of firefighters from around New England in honoring the six for their sacrifice.

The remembrance began when firefighters, in ceremonial uniforms, marched from Union Station to the fire site, which is now home to a new, 2-1/2-story firehouse dedicated in memory of their lost colleagues.

After an invocation and the recitation of the Firefighter's Prayer, officials unveiled a memorial in front of the fire station by New Jersey sculptor Brian P. Hanlon.

The piece is centered around a representation of a firefighter reflecting on the events of the fatal night.

Behind him stands a 12-foot-long by 6-foot-high granite wall, witha composition of the six lost firefighters.

At 6:13 p.m., fire officials played the tape of the dispatcher striking Box 1438.

There was a moment of silence before a silver bell was symbolically clanged a half-dozen times.

The six were then honored with a 21-gun salute, followed by a rendition of "Amazing Grace" by the Worcester Fire Department Pipes and Drum Corp.

Touched with emotion, the assembled firefighters, attired in dark navy uniforms, doffed their service hats and solemnly bowed their heads. A number of them wept openly.

"These (Worcester Six) were firefighters - nothing more, nothing less," said Fire Chief Gerard A. Dio, the only person to address the somber gathering.

"We cannot change what happened. We can only accept it," he said.

Chief Dio urged the firefighters "to move on to the next shift or to the next truck," and thanked the Worcester community for supporting the department.

"You helped us stand tall when the wind was knocked out of us."

Family members of the deceased firefighters also expressed appreciation for the outpouring of sympathy by area residents.

"Through all these years, people have been great," said James F. Lyons, the father of Lt. Lyons.

He said the decision to locate the memorial at the site of the tragedy and the new fire station was "fitting."

Meanwhile, public safety workers who responded to the fire said they would never forget the events of that night.

For example, former Police Chief Edward P. Gardella recalled the telephone call he received at home from then Assistant City Manager Paul LaCava urging him to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

"I knew something was very wrong when I got on the highway (Interstate 290) and there were no cars on it," Mr. Gardella said. "Then I saw the flames and, in my mind, I could only think, 'Oh my God.'"

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