Today I had the sad privilege of taking part in a particular ceremony, and hopefully it will be the last time I will ever have to do so.
For those who have been living in a box for the past six days, last Friday evening (12/3/99), six Worcester, MA firefighters lost their lives in a vacant cold storage warehouse fire. The first two made the supreme sacrifice searching upper floors for two homeless people who were reportedly inside the building. The remaining four lost their lives in the search for their 2 lost brothers. After a frantic search under rapidly deteriorating conditions, the chief was forced to call everyone out of the building (about 30 or so firefighters at that time), leaving their six brothers inside. As of my writing of this, six days after the incident began, only two bodies have been found…four firefighters’ bodies remain buried in the charred ruins of the warehouse.
Today, the City of Worcester wept. Over 30,000 firefighters from across the world (I saw a group from New Zealand) came to Worcester to pay their respects to our six brothers who gave their lives, and to honor the 5 wives and 17 children these firefighters left behind. The procession, which was about 1.5 miles long, took over 3 hours to complete. When my department was lining up at the end of the route, the beginning of the procession was already entering the Worcester Centrum for the memorial service. Never have I seen, nor even heard of, a city becoming silent. The only sounds one could hear during the procession were the swishes of 60,000 pant legs brushing against each other, parade shoes hitting the ground, and the fans on top of the downtown highrise buildings as we marched past. Even the occasional coughs were held quiet. The route took us past the two stations that the firefighters were assigned to, and a salute was given at each one as we marched past. I’ve always been of the opinion (perhaps wrongly, but thats another thread) that men don’t cry. After seeing the black shrouds over the bay doors of those stations, the flags all at half mast, and seeing the signs held by the citizens of Worcester as we marched past, I had tears in my eyes.
The ceremony at the Centrum was spectacular. Apparently, Massachusetts firefighters were given a fast-track into the building for the service (thats what we were told as we were ushered in). The local clergy and representitives of the fire deparment gave their speaches, along with Senator Kennedy and President Clinton. The Senator’s speach was particularly moving, I thought. I was doing damn well. Then the bagpipes started up playing “Amazing Grace.” I don’t care what anyone says, that is the most heart-wrenching piece of music that has ever been written. I had tears running down my face like I don’t know what. I wasn’t alone in that, though. The cliche “not a dry eye in the house” really was true. 12,000 of the strongest men you’ll ever meet were reduced to tears by a simple song.
On the way out, I happened to look out of an upper window from the Centrum (we were in the nosebleed section). I have never seen so many firefighters in my life. 30,000 firefighters were standing in the street in front of the Centrum. Just a sea of navy blue jackets, and blue and white bell caps.
Lets hope I don’t have to do this again.
In memory of:
FF Paul Brotherton, Rescue 1
FF Jeremiah Lucey, Rescue 1
Lt. Thomas Spencer, Ladder 2
FF Timothy Jackson, Ladder 2
FF James Lyons III, Engine 3
FF Joseph McGuirk, Engine 3