Editorial: Tragedy In Worcester

The staff of Firehouse® Magazine would like to express our sincere condolences to the firefighters, families and friends of the Worcester Fire Department on their great loss.

Six Massachusetts Bravest Lost in Worst U.S. Building Fire Disaster in More Than Two Decades." That was the headline on the Firehouse.com website in the days immediately after the fire that occurred on Dec. 3, 1999. Our website, only a little more than 11 months old, provided information, updates and historical information to more than 100,000 visitors to the Firehouse.com website over the weekend following the disaster.

Not only does this terrible tragedy affect the Worcester firefighters; it also affects their families, the survivors, the city and the American Fire Service. Like other fires of this magnitude, this hurt and pain will remain for a lifetime for some, a lesson for others and an inspiration for many. The loss of a single firefighter is devastating, but at this time of the year it can hurt even worse. President Clinton, Vice President Gore and numerous local political leaders attended a very emotional memorial service for the fallen firefighters in Worcester on Dec. 9. The fire service has lost many firefighters this year, many just recently, and it was impressive to see that the leaders of our country care enough to share the pain that the families and the fire service feel.

I attended the Memorial Service in Worcester. I felt privileged to be part of what was perhaps the largest gathering of firefighters in the 350-year history of the American Fire Service. It was a tribute that went above and beyond anything anybody could remember. It seemed like the entire city of Worcester stopped for the day. The procession of firefighters from around the world wound through the city for miles. When the Centrum Arena was filled to capacity, thousands of firefighters were still in line marching miles to the memorial site. It was an amazing sight, observing the sea of blue uniforms before and after my position in the line of march; an unbelievable sharing of pain and grief by everyone who attended - firefighters, civilians and elected officials.

I believe the tragedy may have brought the fire service a little closer together than maybe it has ever been. For at least one week, the fire service had its attention focused on the developments in Worcester. Despite the tremendous outpouring of camaraderie, it was a sight that I and every other firefighter never ever want to see or have happen again.

We have always cared about firefighter safety. We have presented the latest in firefighter safety and survival techniques in Firehouse Magazine and at our Firehouse Emergency Services Expo in Baltimore. In recent years, the focus has been on firefighter health and safety. "Return home they way you left." Programs on getting out alive and rapid intervention teams have raised the level of understanding among firefighters that we must take care of each other on the fireground.

As we start the new millennium, we will continue to present the latest in personal strategy, tactics, techniques and equipment to help the fire service be aware of the how to get out of dangerous situations. Circumstances on the fireground can vary greatly. Not every situation can be predicted, but we hope that with enhanced training and knowledge firefighter deaths can be greatly reduced. Those members of the fire service, America's Bravest or heroes to some, who make the supreme sacrifice are not forgotten, but it is a terrible price to pay for a lifetime of dedication.

A fund has been set up for those who would like to donate to the survivors of the Worcester tragedy. Please send your donations to: Family Fund, c/o Flagship Bank, 120 Front St., Worcester, MA, 01608.