15 years later: Worcester remembers loss of 6 firefighters

Fire Chief Gerard Dio said the men's deaths have inspired new research on safer firefighting technology and practices

Boston Herald

WORCESTER, Mass. — Do these names ring a bell?

Jeremiah Lucey? Timothy Jackson? Thomas Spencer? Joseph McGuirk? Paul Brotherton? James Lyons III?

Fifteen years ago yesterday they all reported to work where, 15 years ago last night, these six firefighters died in the line of duty, answering their last alarms at a Worcester warehouse conflagration.

Because of the enormity of the tragedy we still remember it, the way we still remember the Hotel Vendome fire in which nine Boston firefighters perished 42 years ago. But the names of the fallen eventually fade from the memories of all who once grieved for them, except for their families and colleagues who understand the price that’s paid to be a public servant.

It’s a danger every cop and firefighter accepts just by showing up for the job. And it’s a deadly price their families are prepared to pay, too.

The morning after that voracious Worcester inferno, a Westwood wife reflected on her husband’s 42-year career with the Boston Fire Department, which he concluded in 1988 as a district chief.

“I never told this to Paul, because I didn’t want to worry him,” Dot Cook confided. “But every night, just before going to bed, I made sure I had some outfits in order, including clothes for the children, just in case we got that call that no one likes to think about. I never told the kids either, because I didn’t want to burden their minds, even though it was always in the back of my mind.”

They all know heartache comes with the territory.

A firefighter’s funeral, with an American battle flag suspended from two aerial ladders, grabs the heart, just as a phalanx of motorcycles does at the funeral of a cop, and the promise we make to ourselves at times like that is to better appreciate what these men and women do.

But it’s a promise routinely broken.

Out in Ferguson, Mo., there’s a 28-year-old cop who just turned in his badge, forfeiting all benefits even though, according to a grand jury, he did nothing wrong in exercising his authority when confronted with a perilous situation.

But you can bet on this: If he had killed been by the suspect he killed, a suspect who had struggled to grab his gun, Darren Wilson would have been remembered as a hero this morning.

Instead he discharged his weapon, and now that makes him the bad guy for refusing to allow a menacing assailant to turn him into a martyr.

From Worcester to Ferguson, we talk the talk, but we sure don’t walk it.

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