Eisner: Remembering the Worcester Fire, Memorial and Covering the Incident

The fire that killed six Worcester firefighters 10 years ago propelled Firehouse.com into the limelight providing timely information and updates to the nation's fire service. Reports of the fire and news of the tragic incident inspired thousands of firefighters from across the country to travel to Worcester and spend a day at a memorial in support of the 500-plus members of the Worcester Fire Department, families and friends. Many flew, took special trains or drove in buses to the site.

I traveled to Worcester with one or two of my firefighters and Pete Matthews now editor of Firehouse.com. We parked my chiefs car near downtown. We walked and walked and walked for several miles following a long line of firefighters to the end of the line of march. The firefighters would then march to the municipal Centrum auditorium where the memorial service was going to be held. We ducked in and marched with Robert Cobb from Jersey City, NJ, and Raul Angulo from Seattle.

As we marched in a sea of blue, the civilians watched from the sidewalks. On one street there was a parking lot full of utility company vehicles. The employees had raised all the buckets on the cherry picker apparatus in salute to the fallen firefighters. We made it through downtown and inside the auditorium. We were one of the last few lucky ones to get seats in the upper level. Many thousands of firefighters had to listen and watch the ceremony out in the street on large monitors.

I remember Senator Ted Kennedy and the President of the IAFF in attendance amongst other local and state officials. It was a sad time, especially when many of the firefighters were still digging amongst the rubble of the refrigerated warehouse were the fire occurred only a few blocks away during the moving service. We left Worcester listening to the news reports of the days events on the radio as we headed back to New Jersey.

Firehouse Magazine provided extensive coverage of the fire, memorial service and other events surrounding the fire. Several pages of pictures depicted all of the events of that era.

I returned to Worcester to interview the first-due chief, Mike McNamee, sometime later. As I usually do with every interview I have to speak with those involved after things have calmed down and people have time to sit and talk with me. Chief Gerald Dio, now Chief of Department, and Lt. John Daly, representing the union, sat in on the interview. I asked questions and everyone was helpful in presenting the facts of the incident. We published the exclusive story of the fire in a subsequent issue of Firehouse.

As a great addition to our Firehouse Expo keynote list of speakers we featured Worcester District Mike McNamee in Baltimore. He provided a first-hand account of what transpired during the fire and subsequent recovery operations. A major television news show filmed the segment as apart of a program on Chief McNamee.

To provide valuable lessons learned from the Worcester incident, District Chief John Sullivan reviewed the incident and detailed the multitude of new and improved operations and priorities the department adapted since the fire. Many other fire officers from Worcester taught or attended many of the firehouse conferences since the 1999 fire.

One of the most important things that came from the fire and the attendance of the thousands of firefighters from across the country was the camaraderie that developed. Los Angeles County Fire Department Chiefs Mike Bryant and John Tripp attended the first of six hands-on and seminar training sessions that the Worcester firefighters presented to raise money for a firefighters memorial. Firehouse fully supported each of these events.

Eventually the Los Angeles County Fire Department presented a collection of East and West Coast speakers after the Worcester seminar. The West coast location and show was titled East Meets West. Ideas on firefighting from both coasts were presented. Minds were left to judge what was best for each firefight. Shortly there after, when 9/11 occurred, thousands of west coast firefighters traveled to New York to work on the pile, attend funerals and memorial services. Sometimes there were 15 a day.

I believe one of the greatest outcomes of Worcester and 9/11 was that they brought the East and West Coast firefighters a little closer than ever before.

HARVEY EISNER is the editor-in-chief of Firehouse Magazine and the program director for Firehouse Central, Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World conferences.