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 Memorial Service started at 11:40 A.M. It was unmatched in its dignity, remarkable for its simplicity and memorable for its pageantry. When the bagpipers began playing “Amazing Grace,” without a word said, everyone stood. All the speakers’ remarks addressed different elements. Some spoke to the immediate families, others to the firefighting community. Most were especially moved by Senator Ted Kennedy’s reading of a firefighter’s poem.
We called outside to the staging area to see how many firefighters they thought had marched. We were told that there were still firefighters waiting to march.
At the fire scene, crews continued the search for Tom Spencer, Jerry Lucey, Paul Brotherton and Joe McGuirk. Catching glances at the billboard-sized TV, they did not stop, pausing only during the playing of “Taps” to remove their helmets, place a hand over their hearts and say a quiet prayer.
It turned out that we had roughly 30,000 firefighters in Worcester, making this the largest firefighter memorial service ever in the United States. In the following days, the four missing firefighters were recovered. The first funeral was on Saturday, Dec. 11, and then one each day the following Monday through Friday.
This fire did more to raise the awareness of firefighters and what they do than any other single event I can remember. For once, the country had faces and families to put with the sacrifice firefighters make every day. During one four-hour period on Dec. 9, the world stopped to honor all firefighters. I hope the families of Tim, Jay, Tom, Jerry, Paul and Joe understand how much their loved ones did for us, and continue to do. They shall never be forgotten.