Heroes Under Fire

Firefighters Battle Brutal Blaze In Worcester

On December 2, 1999, a vacant warehouse caught fire in Worcester, Mass. As many as 40 firefighters tried to put out the blaze. Some entered the building, trying to rescue a homeless couple believed to be inside. But firefighters searched for them in vain.

First two firemen, then two more became lost in the smoky haze. Heavy black smoke, fueled by the petroleum lining of the cold storage lockers, poured from the lockers and into the stairway; it was impossible to see.

District Chief Mike McNamee made a tough call: He ordered everyone out. But when it was all over, the fire had claimed six of Worcester's bravest.

Paying Tribute
For more information about the Worcester Fire Department and to view bios of the fallen six fire firefighters, visit its Web site. Send email to mailto:fire@ci.worcester.ma.us

More than 12 hours passed before the conflageration was finally controlled. Then the nation mourned the fallen heroes at a ceremony attended by firefighters from across the country.

In the weeks following the blaze, the building that had taken such a terrible toll on the city finally surrendered to a demolition crew, and the remnants of the old Cold Storage Warehouse were torn down and cleared away.

Now, almost a year and a half later, the lot is vacant, with just a thin layer of gravel to mark the outline of where the six-story warehouse once stood. A fence now surrounds the site, and there's a kind of make-shift memorial: tributes, reminders, personal expressions of people touched by this tragedy. Worcester will never forget.

Local Heroes
Who are the heroes of your fire department? Tell the 48 Hours bulletin boards.

Last month, a federal safety panel cited equipment failure and confusion over the building's layout. But the lead investigator acknowledged there's no way of knowing if anything could have prevented the deaths of the firefighters.

There are many heroes of the Worcester fire: the firefighters who died in the call of action, and their comrades who bravely carry on. But is there someone to blame? Are there people responsible?

Award Winner
Earlier this year, "Heroes Under Fire" won a prestigious George Foster Peabody award. Find out more.
Trial After Fire? In the building some had presumed uninhabited, a homeless couple had taken up residence. And those two were the ones the firefighters had tried to save. What was their role in the blaze? Should they be held responsible in the deaths?

A Decision: New family ties are forged amid the legal proceedings. Discover what the judge in the case ruled and why.

What To Do With Abandoned Buildings? What can be done with aging hulks of the industrial age, forgotten warehouses, factories and aging tenements. Should they be dismantled as potential firetraps or converted to new uses?

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