NEWS NEWS AND MORE NEWS I am going to get all of my memories down, before I forget what I remember!. . . . quote from Stanley Forman

20Dec/117

Firefighters Know How to Bury Their Own

Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers honor their fallen hero.

In the last 12 years I have cov­ered the funeral of six Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers. Five of the six died at the Cold Stor­age Ware­house fire on Decem­ber 6, 1999 and the sixth one was last week, just two days after the 12th anniver­sary of that awful fatal fire. Six fire­fight­ers died in the Cold Stor­age fire in 1999 and I would have cov­ered all of them except one of the funer­als was on Sat­ur­day.  I was the pool for most or all of them due to my con­nec­tions with the Boston Fire Depart­ment who helped set up their ser­vices in 1999. For this funeral they assisted and brought their ramp for plac­ing the cas­ket on top of a piece of appa­ra­tus and for the atten­dants to carry it into the church and the gravesite.

I am always reminded from a speech Boston Fire­fight­ers Local 718 Pres­i­dent Neal San­tan­gelo gave many years ago as he addressed the new fire­fight­ers at their swear­ing in. He said, “We will help you to be safe and in the end we will bury you.” I thought that day how scary for the new Jakes, who have not even been to a real fire and were already receiv­ing notice of the real­ity of the job.

Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers bring­ing the cas­ket with Fire­fighter Jon Davies into Church for the memo­r­ial service.

This funeral was no dif­fer­ent than the many I have cov­ered through the years, not just in Worces­ter but many of the cities and towns around our cov­er­age area. Many mem­o­ries of fire­fighter funer­als stick out in my mind. In 1972, when the Ven­dome Hotel Col­lapsed killing 8 Boston Fire­fight­ers, I can remem­ber cov­er­ing the funeral with all the cas­kets lined up at the Cathe­dral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End.  In Clin­ton, the wife of a fire­fighter killed in the line of duty, wear­ing her somber black dress, com­ing down the steps of the Church on that freez­ing cold day with her husband’s charred hel­met in her hands. In Stoughton, the same thing, another hel­met being clutched tightly in the hands of a firefighter.

Com­ing back to last week in Worces­ter, I watched the hel­met of fallen fire­fighter Jon Davies being car­ried by his part­ner on the Res­cue, Brain Car­roll, who was also caught in the col­lapse. He escaped seri­ous injury after being pulled from the rub­ble after being trapped for at least 45 min­utes. He spent less than 48 hours in the hos­pi­tal.  How pained he must have been as he fol­lowed the fire truck with the cas­ket of Davies being brought to his final rest­ing place. He might have been won­der­ing why Jon and not me and his eulogy cer­tainly expressed the emo­tions he was going through.

The day of the inci­dent reporter Kelly Tuthill and I set up at the Worces­ter Firefighter’s Memo­r­ial to watch and talk to peo­ple com­ing to pay their respects. We got a ter­rific inter­view from a high school friend of Davies who was in the area when he found out and stopped to say a prayer. The sad­dest one I saw was a woman who just hugged the memo­r­ial statue while cry­ing. I had assumed it was some­one from the fam­i­lies of the 1999 fire and her emo­tions had been stirred by the new death. I watched her for a few min­utes not bring­ing my cam­era over, as I knew I could not tape the scene with­out putting the light on and upset­ting her. I did go up and ask if I could help her and was told no thank you. Turns out she was the fiancée of the victim.

The wake itself was rou­tine as the media set up across the street from the funeral home, shoot­ing what­ever was going on as folks walked into to give their con­do­lences or maybe to say a prayer.  Then the mood changed, at least for me. Deputy Chief Frank Diliddo came over right before our five o’clock live shot to tell us about an eleven-year-old boy, Jared Flan­ders who rode his bike to the wake to pay his respects. He was seen sit­ting in the third row and peo­ple were won­der­ing who he was. He had come on his own, learned to put his tie on by read­ing instruc­tions from a book, and said he wanted to be there because he really liked firefighters.

Jared Flan­ders with the bag­pipe band on their way to the cemetery.

We inter­viewed the boy and strangely enough when reporters asked him if he wanted to be a fire­fighter he said it was third on his list, pick­ing a lawyer first. He came to be the Worces­ter Fire Department’s good­will per­son and the depart­ment treated him as well as would be expected. The police drove him home that night and next day he was a guest of the fire depart­ment, arriv­ing in the scuba team truck to attend the ser­vices. The boy then got to march with the bag­pipes band in the front row as the fire­fight­ers left the Church.  There was salut­ing as the boy marched the route with them. It was a very uplift­ing moment in an oth­er­wise very sad story.

My assign­ment was to cover the pro­ces­sion for Jack’s Harper’s pieces later in the show, as he was live dur­ing the church ser­vice.  As usual, he did a great job dur­ing the live show, as I went up and down the streets try­ing to get video for him and stills for our web­site. I did very well; tak­ing some good stills and get­ting some of the video, which was needed. Jack had a smor­gas­bord of video as our cov­er­age was every­where and he did a great job sum­ma­riz­ing the ser­vice in his later pieces that day.

Jack alerted me the fire­fighter car­ry­ing the hel­met was Fire­fighter Brian Car­roll. I spent the next 20 min­utes fol­low­ing the engine com­pany with the cas­ket on it look­ing for a clear shot of Car­roll.  I spot­ted the young boy march­ing, and then the appa­ra­tus and then Fire­fighter Car­roll came into view hold­ing the helmet.

Fire­fighter Brian Car­roll with his partner’s hel­met in hand fol­lows the appa­ra­tus with Fire­fighter Jon Davies’ cas­ket on their way to the memo­r­ial service.

At the end of fire­fighter ser­vices, a fire depart­ment mem­ber rings a very shiny bell. They ring 1–1, 1–1, then again 1–1, 1–1, the “all-out” sig­nal to an alarm of fire. Sadly, on this day the “all-out” call was not to sig­nify the end of a fire, but instead was a somber reminder that for Fire­fighter Jon Davies, the final “all-out” has been sounded.

Addi­tional Infor­ma­tion on the Worces­ter Six from Decem­ber 6, 1999 from Robert Win­ston, Boston Fire Dis­trict Chief, retired. A friend of mine from his BFD days. 

Cama­raderie Under Fire: A Remem­brance of the Worces­ter Tragedy

 

Worces­ter Fire­fighter Memo­r­ial day of fatal fire which killed FF Jon Davies.

It was Decem­ber 3, 1999 when an aban­doned cav­ernous ware­house was set afire by two home­less peo­ple who “lived” in the hulk­ing struc­ture. This was the Worces­ter Cold and Stor­age Ware­house that was located in the City of Worces­ter, Mass­a­chu­setts. The scene of this fire was to become one of fiery col­lapse, death, heartache, hero­ism, and cama­raderie under the most extreme fire­fight­ing conditions.

The home­less man made sex­ual advances to his girl friend and she had rebuffed his sug­ges­tions. He became angry and the two were argu­ing and throw­ing things. They were using can­dles for light and one of the lighted can­dles was knocked into a pile of debris that quickly ignited. The fire spread as the two squat­ters fled into the cold night air leav­ing the fire to grow into what would become one of the worst Line Of Duty (fire ser­vice) Deaths (LODD) in the his­tory of the Worces­ter Fire Department.

Fire­fight­ers in many fire engines responded to the grow­ing fire. More aid was called to the scene as it became obvi­ous to the chief in charge that this was no rou­tine fire-fight. Heavy smoke turned to vis­i­ble flames as the fire ate through the nearly win­dow­less ark of a struc­ture. Inside were many fire­fight­ers strain­ing to extin­guish the flames. The inte­rior was a maze of dark­ened rooms and cor­ri­dors. Six floors of them! Debris was scat­tered every­where adding to the dif­fi­cul­ties of search­ing blindly to find the seat of the fire and being able to exit the build­ing in a hurry if needed.

A num­ber of Fire­fight­ers became dis­ori­ented in the smoke, heat and dark­ness. They radioed for help. Brother fire­fight­ers entered the burn­ing build­ing to try and res­cue their now trapped com­rades. Time after time these rugged fire­fight­ing vet­er­ans made dan­ger­ous and heroic attempts to find their col­leagues. It was no use.

The fire had been eat­ing away at the strength of the brick and wood edi­fice. It started to col­lapse. The fire chief in com­mand ordered all fire­fight­ers to stop res­cue attempts and to vacate the fire build­ing. Six Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers would per­ish this night despite the Her­culean efforts of a small army of fire­fight­ers. Recov­ery of their bod­ies would last for an ardu­ous somber eight days and nights.

The call went out across the New Eng­land region for assis­tance to respond to Worces­ter. Many emer­gency and non-emergency per­son­nel turned out to help. They came by the hun­dreds to stand with and work with their brother and sis­ter fire­fight­ers until the dif­fi­cult and hon­or­able task of recov­ery was completed.

The City of Boston Fire Depart­ment imme­di­ately sent per­son­nel and equip­ment to the tragic scene. I was one of the many that were sent. My role was one of the safety oper­a­tional sec­tor chiefs. Those of us that were assigned that task would check for safety issues, look for haz­ards and pre­vent any fur­ther injuries or deaths. Prior to our arrival at the ware­house fire tragedy, we were given a brief­ing that included spe­cific instruc­tions and alerted us that the Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers were under severe emo­tional stress. We were told that tem­pers may be short and to use tact and to be sen­si­tive to the raw emo­tions being expe­ri­enced by the Worces­ter Firefighters.

It was the sec­ond night of the eight nights of recov­ery oper­a­tions. The ware­house roof, floors and two exte­rior walls had fallen and were now huge piles of smol­der­ing debris. The dan­ger of addi­tional struc­tural col­lapse and of fire­fight­ers falling through burned out floors haunted us. The safety offi­cers were kept busy and were vig­i­lant. Injury or worse was at every step.

As I was sur­vey­ing a sec­tion of the build­ing I noticed that a Worces­ter Fire Lieu­tenant was stand­ing in a very dan­ger­ous loca­tion. Debris was loosely dan­gling above him. I approached the man to warn him of the sit­u­a­tion. He was a tall lean guy. Much taller than I. His face was black with soot and his eyes were red and swollen.  He looked very tired and tense. I tried to warn him, as del­i­cately as I could, that he was in a dan­ger­ous spot. What we were cau­tioned about prior to our arrival at this fire was about to hap­pen. The Lieu­tenant became angry with me and got in my face. He didn’t care what rank I was or that I was look­ing out for his safety. Angry emo­tion packed words were hurled at me. I tried to rea­son with him to no avail. A Worces­ter Chief Offi­cer was stand­ing nearby and saw and heard what was hap­pen­ing. He imme­di­ately posi­tioned him­self between the lieu­tenant and myself and defused what could have become an ugly sit­u­a­tion. I explained the rea­son why I had tried to talk to his lieu­tenant and then I pointed upwards to the hang­ing debris. The chief under­stood, apol­o­gized to me and assured me that he’d talk to his lieu­tenant. We both knew and under­stood how tem­pers can flare under the unprece­dented stress­ful cir­cum­stances that we were all caught up in.

Eight days had passed since the fire began. I had returned to the scene and was again assigned as a safety oper­a­tional sec­tor chief. The pile of smol­der­ing debris that was once this old ware­house had been reduced in size and fully extin­guished. Five of Worcester’s Bravest had been recov­ered. One was still buried some­where in the remain­ing mounds of twisted steel, burned wood and bricks. As I sur­veyed the scene I noticed the lieu­tenant that I had the ear­lier encounter with. He was search­ing some rub­ble. I inquired about him and was told that he had been at the scene from the fire’s start and had refused to go home for eight days and nights.

The cold day turned into a very cold and windy Decem­ber night as recov­ery oper­a­tions con­tin­ued for the last fire­fighter. Fire­fighter Paul Brotherton’s body was located under one of the many mounds of bricks and charred wood. His pre­cise and somber removal from the debris will be a pic­ture in my mind’s eye that I will never forget.

It was so cold and dark and quiet as Fire­fighter Brotherton’s body was taken away in an ambu­lance. The sad task of recov­ery was finally over that night. The heal­ing could begin.

There was a large crowd of peo­ple stand­ing qui­etly beyond the yel­low safety tape that sur­rounded the ruins. Hun­dreds of fire­fight­ers formed two par­al­lel lines lead­ing from the destroyed build­ing out to the crowd of onlook­ers. The Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers climbed down from the piles of debris and slowly walked between the two rows of fire­fight­ers who had come from other fire depart­ments. As the Worces­ter Fire­fight­ers passed by us we saluted them, applauded them, shook their hands and some gave hugs. One by one they filed through the rows. A walk of honor and consolation.

I barely rec­og­nized the lieu­tenant whom I encoun­tered days before. It was his height that caused me to look harder at him than at his broth­ers. His face was now gaunt, black­ened and the eyes were red and sunken. We looked at each other. He rec­og­nized me and stopped walk­ing. It was more like a slow shuf­fle. I shook his hand first. Then the lieu­tenant lit­er­ally col­lapsed into my arms. We embraced each other as only fire­fight­ers can do at a time like this and he began to sob. Even through our heavy wet pro­tec­tive firefighter’s gear he felt frail and unsteady. Tears stained our faces as we looked at each other. Unbe­liev­ably this exhausted weary fire lieu­tenant apol­o­gized to me. I was sort of…stunned. I told him that it was okay, gave him my con­do­lences for his losses and hugged the man again. I watched him as he walked away shoul­der to shoul­der with his comrades.

I never saw the man again. I have thought of him from time to time when the mem­ory of the Worces­ter Tragedy comes back to me or when I see the word “camaraderie.”

Robert M. Winston

Boston Dis­trict Fire Chief-Retired

 

 

Comments (7) Trackbacks (0)
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