Leary said the fire station is a fitting memorial to his cousin, friend and all of the fallen firefighters. He also said that for the people who were in Worcester 10 years ago, there are some images seared in their memories; some they wish they could forget, and others they should never forget, particularly of the ones who have been lost.
“People are sometimes afraid to come up and talk to you about it,” Leary said. “In my case, my cousin. They might in passing mention it. They figure you don’t want to talk about that person, that night or what happened or what they did. And I feel the opposite. What happened that night is something that needs to be mentioned all the time. I love mentioning my cousin’s name. I love talking about what he did and the other five guys here.”
“I speak as a citizen here now when I say we really can’t say enough to thank you guys for choosing this job,” Leary said. “I know my cousin loved this job so much he had a Backdraft pinball machine in his basement. I know you guys love what you do. But I’m just here to tell you guys, the people you protect, we love what you do and thank God you guys are firefighters. Without you, we’d be lost.”
Massachusetts Lt. Governor Timothy Murray, who is a Worcester native and former mayor and city manager, offered words of remembrance as well.
“Before 1999, December 3 was just another day on the calendar for most,” said Murray, who still lives in Worcester. “Not any more. …While we can never forget the pain, the loss and the heroism of that night, we do endure. Life goes on, children grow, families find the spirit to enjoy the lives they have, as they should. …What was impossible in the agony of Dec. 3, 1999, now takes shape and that is the realization that we are not defined by our grief, but by our faith. The faith in the bonds of a brotherhood that is stronger than fire.”
Robert McCarthy, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, was on the platform as a speaker as well. He offered words from various fire union associations.
“We are here tonight because we are a family, each and every one you is part of the firefighters’ family,” McCarthy said. “I want to thank and acknowledge the Worcester Six and our love for all of you.”
McCarthy also read a letter sent by retired Worcester Fire Chief Dennis Budd who couldn’t attend the event.
Budd, who was the overall incident commander of the devastating fire, said the events of that fateful night will never be forgotten, nor should they.
“What happened here on Dec. 3, 1999, what happened during the nine consecutive days and nights until we recovered the last of our fallen brothers will live with us as long as time,” Budd said in his letter.
The last person to speak was the man who took over from Budd upon his retirement, Chief Dio, who has held the position for the past nine years.
“For the past 10 years, we have been returning to this site in remembrance of our comrades and friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their community they swore to protect,” Dio said.
“Tonight I am asking you to look past your sorrow and instead focus on the fact that, although the flames of that raging inferno have long been extinguished, a spark from that blaze continues to burn through the nationwide mission that grew from the desire and the need of so many to ensure that a tragedy such as this would never be repeated.”
Dio said the Fire Act grant program was largely a result of Worcester’s fire and the legislation that gave more support on the national level for the fire service.
“To all of you, we give our heartfelt thanks, because of the commitment of all of you who were called into action, the lives of our fallen brothers, Paul, Tim, Jim, Jerry, Joe, Tom, were not lost in vain.”
As the service wound down, and the color guard and rank and file processed down the route from whence they came, there were few tears. Mostly hugs, pats on the back, large warm smiles and fist bumps among old friends. The exceptionally mild December night gave it an air of a street festival, lacking only a band. A newly rebuilt diner, replacing the one flattened during the recovery of the fallen six, emitted aromas of grilled beef and bacon. Red Cross workers doled out refreshment to the participants and spectators.