Steve MacDonald provides day-by-day coverage of the unfolding Worcester tragedy, as firefighters came to the aid of comrades and their families.The Dec. 3, 1999, retirement party for Needham, MA, Firefighter Tom Welch had been going well. The room at Florian Hall in Boston, home to Boston...
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The fire was still burning and no recovery operation could begin until it was knocked down. The Worcester firefighters were working without sleep and on pure adrenaline. The whole department was there. No one was going anywhere as long as the six were still missing. We received word that Governor Paul Cellucci would be coming to the scene. He wanted to quietly meet with the families and the Worcester firefighters.
Coan put into operation a little-used plan that over the next two weeks provided fire companies from throughout Massachusetts to cover Worcester. Task forces of up to 15 units made the trip.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino called Mullane to offer all the resources of the city. At one point, Firefighter Butch King of Canton Fire showed up at the scene to report that he had already draped the 12 Worcester firehouses with black bunting. The PFFM CISD Team had little sleep and the need to start thinking about rotating shifts was put in motion. Budd made the decision that the recovery operation would not stop.
We set up operations at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Worcester and blocked off 45 rooms to start. (Author’s note: When the term “we” is used, it refers to members of the IAFF, the PFFM, and the Worcester and Boston local unions.) Over the next several days, the hotel staff provided meeting space and unlimited coffee and sandwiches with their compliments. This Operations Center was put in place to start planning for the funerals and/or a memorial service.
Sunday, Dec. 5, started with a meeting of the Worcester and Boston union officials together with Duffy and Burke of the IAFF national office. The Boston team consisted of Ralph Dowling, Mike Walsh and myself. The Worcester union already had in place a Funeral Committee headed by Mark Whalen. Both groups started a dialogue with Duffy and Burke about a memorial/funeral service.
The options were discussed with the consensus leaning toward one funeral service in the Worcester Centrum on Thursday, Dec. 9, if the families agreed. The Worcester Centrum was the obvious choice. It can hold 14,000 people and had the date available. At the time, we had no idea that the recovery of the six missing firefighters would extend far into next week. Next, we traveled to Worcester City Hall to meet with the mayor, city manager and other city officials. We briefed them on plans for one large funeral service with the possibility of making it a memorial service instead. During this meeting, word came from the fire scene that the first firefighter had been recovered. He was later identified as Timothy Jackson of Ladder 2.
We had a need to meet with the families to discuss what we would like to do. It was agreed if just one family did not want the one large funeral, we would then switch to a memorial service with six separate funerals before or after the service. Within 24 hours of the fire, McCarthy and Mullane decided to have the Worcester union assign a liaison to each family. This person would be a Worcester firefighter who knew the family and, more importantly, was trusted by the family. It was paramount to keep the families involved with all aspects of not just the planned memorial service, but also the recovery efforts.
All six families agreed to the Memorial Service. On Sunday evening, we met at the hotel to start planning the Memorial Service. The Worcester firefighters wanted a procession that would take those marching past the two firehouses where the six men worked.
Duffy laid out the Memorial Service. Using the IAFF’s experience in these matters, he said four elements are needed for a successful service: clergy, music, elected officials and firefighters.
As the PIO for Boston Fire, I have a good relationship with the Boston media. I teamed with Burke and together we coordinated the press with respect to the Memorial Service. In addition, we helped out at the fire scene with the Worcester Fire PIOs. The six Boston TV stations together with the two Boston daily newspapers and the Worcester Telegram were covering the incident around the clock.