Like thunder rolling through a valley, the heavy beat of the pipe and drum brigade reverberated off buildings in downtown Worcester, advancing to the site.
More than 1,400 uniformed firefighters marched up Franklin Street to the location of the former Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co., now transformed into a brand new fire station. Some 60 bagpipers and 20 drummers kept the sea of dress-blue uniformed firefighters and the cadre of flag-bearing color guard members in cadence. The procession, comprised of units from all over New England and New York, stretched a city block before stopping in front of the Franklin Street fire station. Right face. Parade rest.
It was time.
Time to pay tribute to the six fallen Worcester fighters who lost their lives in a building that had been called “straight from Hell.” They were lost looking for homeless people reportedly in the building.
“Atten-TION,” the marshal called to the troops. In the silence, a dispatcher’s voice crackled over the loud speaker system as a recording of the initial alarm was played.
“The Worcester fire alarm striking box 1483, Franklin and Arctic streets, reported building fire,” the dispatcher with a New England accent said. “Engine 1, Engine, 6, Engine 12, Engine 13, Ladder 1, Ladder 5, the rescue company, and Car 3, take the box. Time out 18:13.”
Nearly to the minute, hundreds of firefighters and thousands of spectators and family members gathered to pay their respects on the 10-year anniversary of the Dec. 3, 1999 tragedy.
Worcester Fire Chief Gerard Dio called out each of the names of the Worcester Six at the microphone.
“Lt. Thomas Spencer,” Dio said, and a brightly polished nickel bell tolled. “Lt. Timothy Jackson; dong. Firefighter Paul Brotherton; dong. Firefighter Jeremiah Lucey; dong. Lt. James Lyons; dong. Firefighter Joseph McGuirk; dong.
As each name was read, family members placed wreaths on the memorial in front of the station. The silence was broken only by a 21-gun salute and the playing of Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. Three news choppers hovered overhead and the world beyond Worcester also remembered the fallen.
It was also a night of words by several speakers on the elevated platform erected in front of the bay door apron, with apparatus adorned with black bunting serving as a backdrop. The governor, the congressman, the chief, the clergy, the union boss, the city manager, the celebrity. All were at the ready to offer words of remembrance and thanks for the sacrifice.
In the invocation, Most Reverend Daniel P. Reilly, Bishop Emeritus of Worcester offered words of comfort.
“The lord speaks his words to us today as a reminder that there is no greater love than the laying down of one’s life for one’s friends,” Bishop Reilly said. “For the firefighter, your friends happen to be any one trapped in a burning structure, or anyone supposedly trapped in a burning structure. … As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the six brave men who entered the world of the Worcester Cold Storage building, laying down their lives for unknown friends, we ask God to strengthen and bless their families and their fellow firefighters.”
Worcester’s native son Denis Leary, who made it big in show business as an actor and comedian, took to the podium to offer some words. Leary, founder of The Leary Firefighters Foundation, has been instrumental in securing $2.5 million for Worcester for fire training, using personal money as well. Leary’s cousin Jeremiah Lucey perished in the blaze as did his friend Thomas Spencer.
“I just want to say, number one, this is the greatest firehouse I have ever been in my entire life,” said Leary, who is the star and co-creator of the television show Rescue Me about a fictional FDNY fire crew. “I don’t know if you’ve been in there but the bathroom is literally the size of Fenway Park. You could fit about 25 guys in there. I’m not kidding.”