Worcester marks 20 years since devastating Cold Storage fire

Worcester community comes together to remember fatal Cold Storage fire of 1999

WORCESTER, Mass. — It's been 20 years, but the pain is still all too real for firefighters in Worcester and across the country.

On the anniversary of the devastating cold storage fire that claimed the lives of six brave men, people from all across the region come together to pay their respects.

Today marks 20 years since the cold storage fire took the lives of six heroes. Today, we remember Paul Brotherton, Timothy Jackson, Jeremiah Lucey, James Lyons III, Joseph McGuirk, and Lt. Thomas E. Spencer. They will never be forgotten. boston25.com/2RlI2dP

Posted by Boston 25 News on Tuesday, December 3, 2019
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Dec. 3, 1999, firefighters in Worcester received a call for a fire at an abandoned warehouse at 266 Franklin Street.

That call forever changed the department when Thomas Spencer, Paul Brotherton, Timothy Jackson, Jeremiah Lucey, James Lyons and Joseph McGuirk lost their lives attempting to save others believed to be trapped inside.

Investigators would later determine homeless people staying in the warehouse had knocked over a candle to start the blaze. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

"It's been 18 years but it still hurts, it hurts like it was yesterday," Worcester Fire Chief Michael LaVoie said.

Today, seven of the Worcester 6's children are firefighters, honoring their fathers by picking up the gear and carrying on their legacy. Chief LaVoie says they are proud to do the job that killed their fathers.

"We honor their devotion to duty and the seven sons who have followed in their father's footsteps to serve this community as Worcester firefighters that is the greatest tribute of all," said actor Dennis Leary, of the Leary Firefighters Foundation.

Leary's cousin Jeremiah Lucey's son Gerry now serves on the Worcester Fire Department now.

Five of firefighter Paul Brotherton's six children are also firefighters as well as Lt. Thomas Spencer's son, Danny.

"These guys will do anything to help out anywhere most of them are on the funeral committee or helping set up tonight's event, I can't say enough about them they are just truly incredible people, never mind firefighters," said Chief LaVoie.

Joseph McGuirk's sister Joan vividly remembers standing in front of the building waiting for word on her brother.

"We came here night and day and stayed until one or two in the morning some days waiting for the bodies to be recovered, my brother wasn't recovered until the following Friday after the fire," Joan said.

Joan also remembers the support they received from the community, and how important it is that nearly two decades later that same support is still there.

This year, however, something special is in the works to further honor the lives of those killed in the line of duty.

A museum is set to open in Worcester which will not only tell the story of the fire but also showcase the outpouring of support -- the cards, mementos, kind words and love -- from around the state and the country that helped the community heal.

"[It] would give the community a place to revisit or learn about the events of Dec. 3, 1999 and the weeks that followed," said Worcester District Fire Chief Gary Fleischer.

The museum will be housed inside the city's train station until a permanent location eventually opens.

Even though it has been nearly two decades, many say they are still haunted by what happened that day.

"Obviously the pain will never go away," said Worcester Fire Chief Michael LaVoie. "We have a job to do, get up and go to work the next day."

Along with the museum, the Worcester Red Sox announced recently they would be permanently retiring the number 6 jersey to honor the Worcester six.

While this all brings back feelings that are tough to deal with, Chief LaVoie says it has to be done so we never forget.

The pop-up exhibit at the train station will open on Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.

More than 1,000 people, including firefighters from across the country, plan on coming to Worcester on Dec. 3 for a memorial on the 20th anniversary of the fire.

The cold storage fire changed regulations for firefighters across the country to make the job safer for them. However, the department says the biggest change has been the resilience of the community, which has helped them handle the most recent tragedies surrounding their department.

Since the Worcester Six, the department has lost three more firefighters.

Firefighter Jon Davies died fighting a fire on Dec. 8, 2011 and just last year, 36-year-old Christopher Roy died fighting a 5-alarm fire on Lowell Street.

Last month, Lieutenant Jason Menard died after he returned to help a trapped firefighter out a window.