The Worcester 6: Twenty years ago six firefighters died fighting the Cold Storage fire; Now several of their –

Posted in Tattoo Training on Dec 04, 2019

Inside the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse and Co. building, a monster was growing.

As the calls came in nearly 20 years ago, Worcester firefighters did what they have done for decades. They went inside the building to save people they believed were inside.

They were met with white-hot flames. Oxygen only fed the monster more.

The abandoned cold storage warehouse was a 110,000-square-foot maze. The building had been cut up inside and had very few windows. In the aftermath, fire officials would call the warehouse the building from hell.

Some firefighters first on the scene thought it would be a simple surround and drown. Instead, they found much worse.

This was a perfect storm of fires, Worcester Fire Lt. John Franco recalled.

As firefighters battled the beast and searched inside the maze-like innards of the building for two people who had been reported to be inside, six firefighters were lost.

That cold day on Dec. 3, 1999, the monster took the lives of six brave men: Lt. Thomas Spencer, Lt. Timothy Jackson Sr., Lt. James Lyons III, and firefighters Jeremiah Lucey, Paul Brotherton and Joseph McGuirk.

Twenty years later, the namesakes of several of the men known as the Worcester 6 ride the big red trucks and respond to the same calls their fathers once did.

Inside the Franklin Street Fire Station in October, a group of firefighters hugged and razzed one another about which firehouse was the best. The names of the firefighters carried last names that people in the city know well: Brotherton, Spencer, Lucey.

Five of Paul Brothertons six sons serve on the department: Mike and Brian are in the South Division; Steve is stationed at Park Avenue; Dave is on McKeon Road.

Thomas Spencers son, Danny Spencer, is stationed over at Tatnuck Square.

Jeremiah Luceys son, also named Jeremiah Lucey, along with Brothertons son, Tim, are both stationed at the Franklin Street Fire Station, the station located on the site of the Dec. 3, 1999 fire. Out in front of the station is a memorial for the Worcester 6.

Its an unspoken bond, Danny Spencer said after the sons of the Worcester 6 gathered inside the station.


1999 Worcester Cold Storage fire where six firefighters lost their lives


Thank you for protecting our city. You make my family safe. Please dont be sad. We will say a prayer for all of you. -- One of many letters written by children to Worcester firefighters in the days and weeks after the Cold Storage fire


Jeremiah Lucey III was 11 when his father died.

He still remembers learning about his fathers death. Lucey was at a dance in Leicester and had been brought home.

The news came in, Lucey recalled. We knew that he was lost, and we knew that something was going on. I was like, man, dad is Superman you know, hes gonna come home.

His family was whisked away in a Leicester police cruiser to St. Stephens Church, just eight blocks away from the scene of the fire on Grafton Street.

Lucey always knew his father was happy on the job. He remembers riding with his father on the back of his Harley Davidson.

He also remembers shortly after his fathers death that he knew he wanted to become a firefighter.

I think about him every day. Just as much as anybody would, Lucey said. Riding on that truck is probably the closest Ill get to feeling exactly how he felt.

Lucey lifted his sweatshirt sleeve on his arm. There was a tattoo depicting the Cold Storage fire and his fathers badge number, the same badge number Lucey now has. A portrait of Luceys father is higher on his arm.

My father used to tell me all the time no way in hell youre getting on the job, but you know, he knew I think deep down that I was gonna do it, Lucey, 31, said. Ive always wanted to do it since I was a little kid. I wanted him to be proud. Im sure hes proud.

On Luceys right wrist, he carries the memory of another firefighter, Christopher Roy.

Lucey was the other firefighter trapped inside 5-7 Lowell St. on Dec. 9, 2018. Roy died in the fire. Lucey was able to get out.

Jerry Lucey shows the tattoo's he has of his father that died on Dec. 3, 1999, after being caught in the blaze that killed six firefighters at the cold storage facility. (Douglas Hook / MassLive)

Months after the fire that claimed Roys life, Lucey and his wife, Katie, had their son, Jeremiah Lucey IV. They all live in the Leicester home where Lucey grew up in. He hopes the memories of his father and the lessons he learned from his dad can be used to shape his young sons life.

I hope so. I hope I can honor him the right way and teach him the right things and hopefully he can grow up to be the man my dad taught me to be, Lucey said.

Lucey then shared a hug with Danny Spencer inside the Franklin Street Fire Station. The two firefighters graduated from the same class. Lucey was a groomsman at Spencers wedding.

Spencer decided public service was his path in his life after his father died in the Cold Storage fire.

With a smile, Spencer remembered the last phone call with his father. With a mouthful of pizza, Spencer reassured his father that he would save some for his siblings.

I was on the phone with him when the first box came in, Spencer said. He was just 13.

Now, 33, Spencer remembers sitting inside a locker room in the Centrum the now DCU Center in Worcester surrounded by the families of the Worcester 6. He wondered who all these people were. Some of those people would become his brother firefighters years later.

All of them would hear the words from then-President Bill Clinton at the memorial service.

They were firefighters to the core, heroes already, as we have heard, to their friends and loved ones, not to mention the people they saved through the years, Clinton said. For all six, being a firefighter was more than a job, it was in their blood. So when they went into that building that night, they were following their dream to serve, to save lives, and to stick together.

Firefighting is certainly in Spencers blood. His mothers father was also a Worcester firefighter. His mother, Kathy, had a feeling Spencer was going to wear the same uniform as her father and his father.

She knew it was coming, Spencer said. I used to hang out at Grove Street (station) after my dad died. They would let me stay the night and then someone would drive me home in the morning.

The Brotherton brothers expected their father to be at the Cold Storage fire.

For the Brotherton brothers, many of them knew they wanted to be a firefighter before their father died. They all learned about his death either Friday night, the day of the fire, or the following day.

I dont think dads going to be coming home. Dad had a bad fire last night.

Those were the heartbreaking words Denise Brotherton told two of her sons, David and Jonathan.

It was a heavy toll for a 6-year-old to take, but its made me a better person, David said. Im ready to follow his footsteps. I love my job.

Mike was 14 when his father died. His dad picked him up from Saint Johns High School in Shrewsbury during a half-day at school and then headed to work around 5 p.m.

The box for the first alarm would come at 6:13 p.m.

People then started showing up at the Brotherton home in Auburn.

We put on the news and they tell us there is a big fire, Mike said. We didnt think too much of it. My father had been to a lot of big fires. I remember everything.

(Left to right) Steven, Michael, Brian and David Brotherton stand in the firehouse that was constructed in memorial of the six firefighters that died in the fire at the cold storage facility on Dec. 3, 1999. One of the six was Paul Brotherton, their father. (Douglas Hook / MassLive)

As more people showed up, the Worcester fire chiefs truck came up the street with the lights on.

Denise Brotherton let out a scream.

I think I punched a wall out of anger, Mike said.

Mike, 34, wanted to be a firefighter at a young age, like his brothers. That night, it sealed the deal for Mike. He was going to be a firefighter.

Brian, 33, knew at 6 years old. His father died when he was 13.

I was just always fascinated with first-responders, he said. I used to watch that show Rescue 911 all the time. Im proud that theres multiple of us on. Were all in it for the same reason. Serve the community, protect lives, protect property and hopefully change someones life.

Brian used to head to the stations to pick up paychecks with his father. There are days when he is playing with his children, and he remembers his dad.

Hes probably bummed hes not alive to work with us, Brian said. He certainly would be proud. He would want us to do whatever made us happy.


Thank you for trying to save people from fires and helping people in Worcester. You firefighters are my heroes! I am 7-years-old and someday when I grow up I hope I can help my family and other people that might need help in an emergency. -- One of many letters written by children to Worcester firefighters in the days and weeks after the Cold Storage fire


Earlier reports during the fire were that two homeless people were trapped inside. A homeless couple living inside the six-story building, abandoned years earlier, got in an argument and knocked over a candle on the second floor.

The couple left the building and never reported it. Firefighters didnt know they got out.

As firefighters rushed inside, the influx of fresh air fed the growing fire.

Retired Fire Lt. Joseph Gaffney was on Engine 7 on Grafton Street. His crew headed to the scene. He looked into the sky.

We could see a column of white smoke and that was a good thing to a firefighter. Usually, if you see a good working fire, it is black. I was saying they were hitting it and they are getting water on the fire, Gaffney said.

Everything changed in seconds. The white smoke turned black.

What the hell just happened? he thought.

A rescue crew searching the building became lost inside the vast dark spaces. A mayday call went out as they ran short of air.

Getty Images

Firefighters attempt to put out a general alarm fire at the Worcester Cold Storage building, Worcester, Massachusetts, Dec. 3, 1999. Six firefighters were missing after becoming trapped in a blaze that swept through an abandoned industrial building. (Photo by Getty Images)

Gaffney, who entered the building with his crew, couldnt see anything inside.

Firefighters will tell people to put their hands over their eyes and thats what it is like to try to see inside a fire. This fire was like having your eyes closed.

Retired Worcester Fire Chief Gerard Dio heard Paul and Jerry on the radio calling for help.

Fire alarm we have a second emergency here. Get people up on this floor now or we are going to die! We have no air and we cannot breathe.

What floor are you on? What floor are you on?

We dont know. We dont know. We were on a wall. We have no air. Please.

Spencer, Jackson, McGuirk and Lyons were on the fifth floor to search. They became disoriented on the upper floors and were lost.

When the evacuation order was issued one hour and 45 minutes into the fire, six firefighters were missing.

We still thought it would be fine. We always got out, Franco said. I assumed they would find their way out.

Worcester Fire Chief Michael Lavoie was a firefighter at the Southbridge Street Fire Station when the fourth alarm was struck.

He could see the flames coming through the Cold Storage warehouse from his station.

Im getting dressed and one of the guys said there were two guys missing and they believe they are dead, Lavoie said. I didnt believe it. I said no way, no way.

Firefighters from his station piled up into a pickup truck.

When we got here, we actually drove down Franklin Street and there were only three windows on that side of the building, Lavoie said. You looked in the windows and Ive never seen fire that was actually white. It was basically white-hot.

Lavoie knew then, his brothers were gone. Even now, his eyes glaze over and Lavoie is rushed back to that day, that moment when he talks about it.

We were all just in shock. Just devastated, he said.

As the fire raged, the warehouses interior collapsed onto the concrete floor of the second story. The location became known as the deck.

Once it collapsed, it was an inferno, Dio said.

Dio, then deputy chief, steadied himself that night. He was given the task of addressing the media. He had to tell the world the dire news.

Thousands of firefighters converged on Worcester. The battle against the fire lasted for more than 20 hours.


This is a Dec. 4, 1999 photo showing firefighters spraying water onto the general-alarm fire scene at the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. in Worcester, Mass., where six Worcester firefighters lost their lives. Massachusetts lawmakers filed a bill Tuesday, Dec. 21, 1999, to require owners of vacant buildings to provide detailed floor plans to police and fire departments. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)


Sorry you lost the six lives. Heroes, not just everyday heroes. Not just one but six men risked their lives for others. Now its our turn. -- One of many letters written by children to Worcester firefighters in the days and weeks after the Cold Storage fire


Firefighters spent days sifting through the rubble. They werent leaving until they found their fallen brothers.

Dio remembered firefighters with small brushes dusting ash from the rubble as the search continued.

The Worcester 6: Twenty years ago six firefighters died fighting the Cold Storage fire; Now several of their -

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