Worcester fallen firefighter's 6 sons heed call to public safety

By Scott J. Croteau
The Telegram & Gazette

AUBURN, Mass. — Denise Brotherton says there is no better way to serve the public than in public safety.

Her husband, Firefighter Paul A. Brotherton, did just that. He served in the Worcester Fire Department for more than a decade. She is proud her sons all wish to serve the public.

The two oldest boys, Michael, 24, and Brian, 23, both don their gear for the Worcester Fire Department, the same department their father served with before he died in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire 10 years ago.

Steven, 20, is an on-call firefighter with Auburn and is studying fire services at Anna Maria College. Timothy, 19, also is at Anna Maria College, considering a career as a police officer. In July, 17-year-old John will head off to serve as a Marine, and hopes to become a state trooper.

The youngest of the clan, 16-year-old David, wants to be a firefighter like his older brothers.

Mrs. Brotherton, 50, isn't worried about her children all in careers that could be risky.

"I have to say I'm not because they're all going to be safe," she said. "They've got an angel sitting up there, and I'm telling you someone is going to look over them because I can't imagine having something sad happen like that again and I pray to God it never happens in Worcester."

Very proud of her sons, who can down seven gallons of milk during Sunday dinners, Mrs. Brotherton said 10 years have gone quickly.

"Some days I can put myself back at that scene," she said. "I can go to Franklin Street and tell you where I stood during the whole fire. Other days I look at my kids and it's like, my God, where has the time gone?"

With the media following her and the boys for days after the fire, Mrs. Brotherton said sometimes it wore on her sons. She told them to send a message. If they didn't want to talk, focus on something else, she told them.

"Think of a new device, a new sprinkler system," she said. "Be grateful to the public. Because I have to tell you, they were there for us. This is one thing I will never forget.

"The community to this day, it's heartwarming. It was surreal," she said. "Not only did they come out 10 years ago, they have continued to support the six families."

Mrs. Brotherton recalled that her Fire Department liaison, Fire Lt. Michael D. O'Connell, and his wife, Dianne, did all they could for the family during the time of the fire. In the weeks before Christmas, they put their lives on hold for the families of the Worcester Six, she said. Each family was assigned a liaison after the fire.

Lt. O'Connell checked on the family, and worked shifts at the station and the fire site. Firefighter Brotherton was the last man to be recovered. Mrs. Brotherton laughed about the story of her leaving a Sam Adams beer at the fire scene, telling firefighters her husband would find it.

Now retired District Fire Chief Michael O. McNamee recalled the day they found Firefighter Brotherton. The fire had been out for days and suddenly a wall near the Kenmore Diner burst into flames. Down below the area was his fallen comrade.

The fire went out after he was removed.

Smiling, thinking of her husband, the king of one-liners, Mrs. Brotherton said her husband always had a long to-do list. She believes he thought of that the night of the blaze.

"I had a honey-to-do list a mile long," she said. "And I had said in one interview that when I think back there were two lights, one said exit and one was the big bright light and he thought for a minute of the honey-to-do list and took the big bright light. He loved his job and if he could have chosen his death, I think that would have been it."

Michael has moved out, but the five other boys still live at home. Things are a little slower now. No more trips to football or baseball games. Mrs. Brotherton is now taking time for herself. Working as a per-diem nurse, she also is taking courses online. It is never too late to improve yourself, she said, a good lesson for her boys.

She continues to think about how she can give back. She already has donated defibrillators in Paul's name. But she still thinks of the homeless population and those without heat, the colder days coming.

"We really need to focus on that," she said.

A couple of days after this year's Dec. 3 memorial event, Mrs. Brotherton will do something she did six months after her husband died and have a get-together of friends, family and firefighters. Her husband told her to throw a party when he died and she did. She had the disc jockey play Natalie Merchant's song "Thank you," then Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky."

She doesn't think any special songs will be played, but she wants those close to her to know her family is doing well.

"I think it's very important for people to see we're doing well," she said. "Just to take a sad thing and just try to stop, reflect but let people know we're doing OK."

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