The Worcester Six

The Worcester Fire Department protects the lives and property of nearly 175,400 in an area of approximately thirty nine square miles. Over four hundred firefighters are employed by the department running out of twelve stations with fourteen engine companies, seven ladder companies, one heavy rescue & three district chiefs. The department answers over 30,000 calls for service per year ranging from everything from medical calls to structural fires.

The Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse building was built in 1906 and measured 88x88 with a addition built in 1912 measuring about 70x120 both buildings were six floors high with thousands of square feet on each floor and was used as a large meat processing and storage facility. The Worcester Cold Storage Company occupied the building until 1983 when it was bought by Chicago Dressed Beef who also owned the L.B. Darling meat packing operation in Southboro Massachusetts. The large "L" Shaped building was then sold to a Framingham Massachusetts company known as CDB Realty Trust on May 14, 1987, who occupied the building with Chicago Dressed Beef until 1988 when they moved production operations to Millbrook Street. The refrigeration system was eventually shut down in 1989, The nearly windowless building stood vacant for eleven years with no fire alarm or working sprinkler systems and minimal if any security or building maintenance making a great place for vandals and vagrants to reside.

On December 3, 1999 at 18:13 the Worcester fire alarm office transmitted Box 1438, Franklin Street & Arctic Street for a reported building fire behind the Kenmore diner at 250 Franklin Street. Engine Companies 1,6,12,13 Ladder Companies 1 & 5 Rescue 1 and Car 3 responded, While crews were enroute fire alarm notified command that a off duty police officer on Route 290 Eastbound was reporting smoke coming from the top of the building. Shortly thereafter Engine one arrived and reported "heavy smoke showing" from the roof of 266 Franklin Street the Worcester Cold Storage Company and began to initiate a interior operation on what was then believed to be a manageable fire. Car 3 arrived at 18:18 and transmitted a 2nd Alarm, Engine's 2,16 Aeriel Scope 2 & Car 2 responded on the additional alarm and were staged under the highway. Engine 13 reported a fire condition in the elevator shaft on floors two and three followed by a urgent message from a member of ladder one who reported heavy fire in a floor two freezer room and requested a company with a "line" to assist during this time members from rescue one made the roof and began to evaluate the conditions reporting heavy smoke and embers from the skylight over the elevator shaft it was also reported that the fire was in the building nearest the highway.

At 18:24 the owner of the Kenmore Diner reported two homeless people possibly inside and additional members entered the building to preform search and rescue operations, Car 3 transmitted a third Alarm at 18:40 with Engines 3,7 & Ladder 2 responding on the alarm.

At 18:46 Thirty-Three minutes since the first alarm was sounded Firefighter's Brotherton & Lucey (Rescue 1) radio to command that they were lost, followed by another radio transmission notifying command they were one floor below the top floor and low on air, During this time Engine one was reporting to companies on floor two to back down due to rapidly deteriorating conditions. At 18:47 Rescue one transmitted another emergency message reporting that they were buddy breathing, A fourth Alarm was subsequently transmitted at 18:52 With Engine's 8,15 & Ladder 4 responding. Command ordered the two missing members of Rescue one to activate their PASS devices at 18:55 they replied "They Are Activated!" this is the last intelligible message heard from the crew. Two members From Ladder two (Lieutenant Spencer/Firefighter Jackson) and two members from Engine three (Firefighter's Lyons & Mcguirk) began searching the fifth floor for the missing men at 19:08 the officer of ladder two radioed to command to have a crew start yelling from the stairwell to assist them in finding the way back down they were low on air. At 19:15 The portable radio from ladder two opened up stating simply "were done" this was the last message heard from the search crew, The fifth alarm was struck at 19:26 bringing Engine's 5,10 & Car 4 to the scene as a heavy fire condition broke through the roof sending fire towering over the billboard that sat atop the building immediately adjacent to the highway, At 19:58 Car 3 made the decision to evacuate the building switching to a defensive or exterior attack and having to uphold the order by standing in the doorway and hold back firefighters who eagerly tried to reenter the building to continue searching for the missing. Eventually mutual aid from around Massachusetts arrived to relieve Worcester firefighters and staff the apparatus that was flowing water from the dozens of ladder pipes and other heavy stream appliances set up on all sides of the complex as the building turned into a inferno known to some as "The Perfect Fire", the exterior operation lasted twenty hours.

The recovery operation began on Saturday Afternoon December 4th once the heaviest fire was knocked down enough to allow a wrecking crew to safely setup and begin working, Members searched twenty four hours a day for eight days and called the buildings "A" Building & "B" Building during the operation. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors collapsed down onto the second floor which was constructed of concrete and became known as "The Deck". On Sunday morning December 5th Firefighter Jackson was found, On December 11th a week later the recovery concluded with Firefighter Brotherton being found. The recall on Box 1438 was sounded at 22:27 on December 11, 1999.

It is believed that the fire was started earlier on Friday afternoon December 3rd by Julie Ann Barnes and Thomas S. Levesque, two homeless people who inadvertently knocked over a lit candle during a fight. They never reported the fire which burned undetected and fed on the contents and other combustible material in a floor two office area before spreading through void spaces to the upper floors and only detected once smoke became visible from the skylight over the elevator shaft several hours later. Six charges of manslaughter were filed and subsequently dropped on the two subjects involved on September 19, 2000. A fence remained at the site and memorialized the lives of the men now known as "The Worcester 6", A new firehouse was constructed on the site to replace the fire station that was demolished to make room for the expanding downtown area and opened in late 2008, also a memorial wall was dedicated to the men at the nine year anniversary ceremony. The Worcester Fire Department has also implemented several safety procedures since the fire including but not limited to the placarding of dangerous vacant buildings around the city.

This was the first time in twenty one years that six or more firefighters have been killed from injuries sustained in the line of duty during a structural fire, On August 2, 1978 six New York City Firefighters were killed when the roof of the burning building they were working on collapsed at the corner of Avenue Y & Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn, This Is Also the third time in fifty eight years that multiple firefighters have died at a building fire in Massachusetts on March 10,1941 at 12:45 PM the Brockton fire department transmitted Box 1311 for a reported fire in the basement of The Strand Theatre On School Street thirteen firefighters were killed in the fire. On June 17, 1972 Boston firefighters responded on Box 1571 Dartmouth & Newbury Streets for fire at The Hotel Vondome at Commonwealth & Dartmouth Streets four Alarms were transmitted for the fire, during overhaul operations a portion of the building collapsed killing nine firefighters.

Paul A Brotherton (41) Rescue 1
Jeremiah M. Lucey (38) Rescue 1
Lieutenant Thomas E. Spencer (42) Ladder 2
Timothy P. Jackson (51) Ladder 2
James F.“Jay” Lyons III (34) Engine 3
Joseph T. McGuirk (38) Engine 3
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