WORCESTER, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — December 3, 1999 was a dark day for the city of Worcester.
That was the day a fire at an abandoned cold storage facility on Franklin Street claimed the lives of six Worcester firefighters.
The fire began when two homeless people squatting in the building knocked over a candle and left the scene without reporting the fire. Crews arrived at the scene to battle the blaze, with six firefighters—Joseph McGuirk, James Lyons III, Jeremiah Lucey, Paul Brotherton, Timothy Jackson, and Lt. Thomas Spencer—becoming trapped inside. Rescuers attempted to find them, but rapidly-deteriorating conditions forced the rescue teams to evacuate.
At 6:13 p.m., hundreds of Worcester Firefighters marched from Union Station to the former Cold Storage site to remember the Worcester Six. That was the time the first alarm was sounded.
Worcester Fire Chief Michael Lavoie was there, and told WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal the night is still hard to think about.
"I know exactly where I was, I know exactly what I did the whole night," he said. "I saw things that no one needs to see."
Chief Lavoie said the city and the department have to remember, because they have to honor those who have come before them.
"We lost six guys 20 years ago, and we can never forget what those six guys did for us, what they did for the community, what they did for each other," he said. "It's just so important to remember."
In the years since, the city has lost more firefighters—John Davies, Christopher Roy, and most recently, Jason Menard. Lavoie said the loss of Menard just weeks ago makes the anniversary even tougher.
"It truly takes a special person to be a Worcester firefighter," City Manager Ed Augustus said.
Twenty years later, Worcester remembers the "Worcester Six" with a special pop-up exhibit at Union Station.
"I went over there, and the memories, they come flooding back," Chief Lavoie said. "It's really, really tough, 20 years later, it's like it happened yesterday."
The exhibit displays some of the tributes sent to Worcester following the fire, including cards from children, letters, and helmets and patches from firefighters around the world.
"We made a vow that we would keep everything we received," said retired Fire Lt. Don Courtney. "It affectionately became known as 'the stuff.'"
A memorial service to honor the fallen heroes will be held Tuesday evening at the Franklin Street fire station, which was built on the former site of the cold storage building. One of the attendees will be comedian and actor Denis Leary, the cousin of Lucey and childhood friend of Spencer.
The Union Station display will remain open to the public until Wednesday.
WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal (@KarynRegal) reports