Worcester Chief: Feels Like Yesterday

A decade is a long time, but at the same time it seems like yesterday in Worcester. Some in the rank and file are ready to move on. Never forget the losses the department suffered on Dec. 3, 1999, but stay focused on the future.

The department purchased 45-minute SCBAs, got more thermal imaging cameras – there are 10 total in the department now—and trained firefighters in self preservation.

“If we are sending these guys into buildings, they should be provided with protective gear and equipment to help them protect themselves,” Dio said. “ If you expect us to save you in a time of need, give us the tools and equipment to protect ourselves.”

The cold storage building fire shone a spotlight on Worcester and helped raise the needs of the fire service to a national level.  Dio said the federal Fire Act Grant started, in part, because of the tragic losses of the six firefighters.

“The men did not die in vain,” Dio said. “It helped change the way people think about fire and insurance. Prior to this, it was a local issue. This incident woke people up to the fact that it’s more than a local issue. …Fire protection is a national problem.” He added that before the Worcester fire, there wasn’t much federal money allocated to fire departments, as little as $5 million nationwide and now, with the multiplier effect of the attacks on Sept. 11, the feds award money in the billions, he said.

But back then, money was scarce for fire departments. Dio recalls the decision to build a new fire station at the site and the need for the funds to do so. He butted heads with then Gov. Mitt Romney who vowed he wouldn’t give Worcester $2 million for a new fire station.

Dio and local representatives worked for, and won, a legislative override of the Governor’s decision and Worcester was given the funding for the new station on Franklin street which was dedicated and opened last November.

The site is also home to a fire department-created memorial to the fallen firefighters. Department funds and contributions made it possible.

Dio said he knew something had to be done with the property and permanently. “I wasn’t going to let it become some parking lot or something. We’ll be at that station for the next 200 years.”

And he said it’s a fitting way to remember the Worcester Six – having a fire station on the hallowed grounds.

“It’s like we’re keeping watch on the property and the guys do an immaculate job,” Dio said. “The place always looks nice. …It’s where the guys died.  It’s where they would feel comfortable. It’s like they’re with us all the time now.”