First Report: Worcester, MA

Harvey Eisner files a preliminary report on a fire that killed six firefighters.Six firefighters were killed during a multiple-alarm fire in a vacant cold-storage warehouse on Dec. 3, 1999. Killed were Lieutenant Thomas E. Spencer, 42 of Ladder 2; Firefighter Paul A. Brotherton, 41, of Rescue 1; Firefighter Timothy P. Jackson, 51, of Ladder 2; Firefighter Jeremiah M. Lucey, 38, of Rescue 1; Firefighter James F. Lyons, 34, of Engine 3; and Firefighter Joseph T. McGuirk, 38, of Engine 3.

Firefighters initially made entry to search for homeless people who were reported trapped inside the heavy-timber-constructed building, which was more than 80 years old. Apparently, two firefighters searching for separate fires reported they were running out of air and radioed a "Mayday." Several other firefighters then entered the warehouse, which had no windows on the upper floors. A rapid intervention team went inside to look for those who had radioed for help.

Two fires were discovered that appeared to have begun separately. The building's thick brick walls were lined with cork insulation. Four of the firefighters who went in after the first reports of a "Mayday" never made it out of the building. Eventually, the fire burned through the roof. Elevated streams from apparatus positioned 25 feet away on Interstate 290 operated heavy streams into the structure. At one point nearly a dozen master streams worked the fire.

The interior floors collapsed, leaving firefighters an extremely difficult area in which to search for survivors. The body of one firefighter was located fairly quickly. Cranes, backhoes and other heavy equipment was brought to the scene to dismantle and remove debris and to look for the remaining firefighters.

Specialized technical equipment and an Urban Search and Rescue team were utilized to assist in the search for trapped firefighters. Units from around the state and region responded to the scene to cover empty stations and offer equipment and services to the Worcester Fire Department. This allowed Worcester to use its members to perform the search and removal of their fellow firefighters.

A homeless man and woman were charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the tragedy. The pair overturned a candle during an argument, igniting the blaze.

The Worcester Fire Department covers 39 square miles and protects 163,000 people. The department has nearly 500 firefighters who are assigned to 15 engines, seven ladders and a rescue. On-duty strength is over 100 fire personnel. In 1998, the department responded to 28,000 alarms, of which 40% were EMS and 485 working fires. Firehouse® will publish updated information when it becomes available.

Harvey Eisner