Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire

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Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire
Date December 3, 1999 (1999-12-03)
Time 18:13 EST (UTC−05:00)
Location Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co.,
266 Franklin Street,
Worcester,
Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°15′36.23″N 71°47′34.17″W / 42.2600639°N 71.7928250°W / 42.2600639; -71.7928250
Also known as Worcester Cold Storage
Cause Commercial building fire
Deaths 6
Accused Thomas Levesque
Julie Ann Barnes
Charges 6 counts of involuntary manslaughter
Verdict Charges dismissed; 5 years probation in lieu
Litigation 6 wrongful death lawsuits pursued against building owners
Awards 2 plaintiffs accepted $166,667 each in out of court settlements
4 plaintiffs accepted $250,000 each in out of court settlements

The Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire began on December 3, 1999, in an abandoned building at 266 Franklin Street, Worcester, Massachusetts.[1] The fire was started accidentally some time between 16:30 and 17:45 by two homeless people who were squatting in the building and had knocked over a candle.[2][3] They left the scene without reporting the fire.[4] The 6-story building, previously used as a meat cold storage facility, had no windows above the ground floor and no fire detection or suppression systems.[2][5] The fire, which started on the second story, burned undetected for 30–90 minutes.[6]

The structure was located five blocks east of the Worcester central business district, near Union Station and adjacent to Interstate 290. An off-duty police officer first called in the fire at 18:13 after noticing grey/white smoke coming from the roof of the building.[2] At around the same time an off-duty firefighter from neighbouring Auburn passed the building on I-290 and radioed his Fire Control to report smoke coming from the roof. He told them to inform the Fire Chief "this is going to be a multiple-alarm fire."[2]

Firefighters were unfamiliar with the layout of the building, and most of the floors inside - each up to 15,000 square feet - were divided into a labyrinthine maze of connecting meat lockers. The walls and many ceilings were covered with insulating layers of cork, tar, expanded polystyrene foam, and spray-applicated polyurethane foam.[7] There were no fire walls or fire doors, and only a single staircase extended from the basement to the roof.

The owner of a neighbouring business informed a police officer at the scene that a homeless couple had been squatting in the building and firefighters initiated a search, believing they could still be trapped inside.[8] Conditions inside the building deteriorated rapidly. Worcester Fire Department District Chief Michael McNamee said: "There was a light smoke condition in the upper levels of the building to the point we didn't even have our face pieces on. Within four seconds it went from that condition to the building being filled completely with black, hot, boiling smoke."[9] The layout of the building and the absence of windows left firefighters without a secondary escape route and prevented ladder and rescue operations. Six firefighters were still unaccounted for in the building when the interior floors collapsed to the second story level.[2] They were the city's first firefighting deaths in 36 years.[5][10]

Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co.[edit]

The Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building was constructed in 1906 and covered an entire city block on Franklin Street.[2][11] The original structure measured 88 feet by 88 feet, and stood 80 feet high.[2] The warehouse was built to store western dressed beef which was slaughtered in Chicago and could be shipped in refrigerated rail cars to the east at a lower cost than shipping livestock.[12] The interior consisted of six storage levels and a basement. The warehouse was served by a rail siding to the rear, operated by the Boston and Albany Railroad.[2]

To insulate the building, it was constructed with 18-inch thick brick walls and had no windows above the first floor, except in the stairwell. The interior walls were covered with layers of cork impregnated with tar, polystrene foam and polyurethane to improve insulation. The insulating layers were up to 18-inches thick.[6] Two elevator shafts ran alongside the stairwell. The first and second story floors were constructed of concrete, and those above were constructed of timber. In 1912 the building was extended on the west side. The extension almost doubled the floor space and included two further elevators serving all levels, a second stairwell which terminated at the 3rd floor, and some windows in an office space on the north-east corner of the 2nd floor.[2]

Between 1906 and 1983 the building was owned by the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. In 1983 it was sold to Chicago Dressed Beef. It was purchased by CDB Realty Trust, controlled by Ding On "Tony" Kwan and his wife Shu May Kwan, in 1987.[13] The building was abandoned by 1989 and remained vacant until its destruction. During this period it was frequently used by homeless persons, who built fires inside for warmth.[14][15]

Fire[edit]

Reports that homeless people were possibly inside the engulfed warehouse caused fire-rescue personnel to search the six-story building. The searchers' task was made extremely difficult by the large size of the building's interior, the layout, which was a maze of corridors and meat lockers, many with identical flush-handle doors, and the highly flammable composition of its insulation.[4] Nearly a century old, the interior walls had been progressively covered with various forms of insulating materials, including cork impregnated with tar, polystyrene foam, and polyurethane foam, to a thickness of 18 inches. Once ignited, the large amount of fuel, fed initially by the large volume of air in the building, became virtually inextinguishable.

The six-story building's exterior walls were constructed of approximately 18 inches of brick and mortar, with no windows above the second floor.[4] The lack of available windows prevented firefighting personnel from making an accurate initial assessment of the fire. Initial breaching of lower-floor doors, combined with venting the building by smashing an elevator-shaft roof skylight, effectively turned the building into a huge chimney. With the fire rapidly accelerating out of control, rescue teams facing near-zero visibility became lost with available breathing air depleted. Despite repeated radio calls for help, along with activation of audible location alarms, six firefighters perished in the blaze.[2] It took eight days to find and recover the remains of the six men.[4]

Timeline[edit]

Time Incident
6:13PM The first alarm was dispatched.
6:14PM Engine 1 arrived on location reporting they had heavy smoke showing.
6:17PM Car 3 requests the 2nd alarm be struck.
6:20PM Ladder 1 reported fire on the second floor, and had multiple 2-1/2" lines being put in service for the suppression efforts.
6:24PM Fire alarm tells command that they have a report that a citizen told a police officer that "may be two people that live in that building."
6:32PM Car 3 asks Rescue 1 if they've checked on the rumor of the two homeless people. Rescue 1 reports they have made a preliminary search, and haven't found anyone.
6:40PM Car 2 requests the 3rd alarm be struck.
6:46PM Rescue 1 reports to command that they are lost on the fourth floor and they are running out of air.
6:47PM Rescue 1 calls Fire Alarm asking them to clear the air, and they have an emergency.
6:47PM The Fire Alarm dispatcher sounds the alert tones.
6:52PM Car 2 requests the 4th alarm be struck and Chief Budd be notified.
6:53PM Car 3 directs Rescue 1 to activate the PASS devices to aid the other companies in locating them.
6:55PM "They are activated," referring to the PASS devices. This is the last audible transmission from Rescue 1.
7:04PM Ladder 2/Portable 2 asks Portable 1 his location. Portable 1 replies "Good question." They are now lost with Engine 3 on the fifth floor.
7:08PM Ladder 2 requests for the Chief to send a crew to the stairwell and yell, so they can find it. They also report they are running low on air.
7:15PM "Ladder 2 to command we're done..." This is the last transmission of the four man search team from Ladder 2/Engine 3.
7:26PM Car 1 requests the 5th alarm be struck.
7:31PM The Millbury Fire Department came on mutual aid to the scene. They brought a thermal imaging camera with them. This was to be used in assisting the firefighters locate the missing firefighters.
7:53PM Car 4 reports the thermal imager has stopped working.
7:58PM Car 3 signals for all companies to evacuate the building.

Deaths[edit]

Rank Name Age Hometown Company
Lieutenant Thomas Spencer 42 Worcester, MA Ladder 2
Firefighter Paul Brotherton 41 Auburn, MA Rescue 1
Firefighter Timothy Jackson 51 Hopedale, MA Ladder 2
Firefighter Jeremiah Lucey 38 Leicester, MA Rescue 1
Firefighter* James Lyons 34 Worcester, MA Engine 3
Firefighter Joseph McGuirk 38 Worcester, MA Engine 3

*Lyons received a posthumous promotion to Lieutenant.[16]

Criminal charges[edit]

Involuntary manslaughter charges against Levesque and Barnes were initially dismissed, reinstated on appeal, and finally dismissed in January 2010.[17] They received probation. Ding On "Tony" Kwan, the building's owner, was not charged, but families of the deceased firefighters sued him for wrongful death for negligently failing to keep out squatters. The families received between $166,667 - $250,000 each from Kwan in out of court settlements.[18][19]

Memorials[edit]

Memorial to the fallen firefighters outside Franklin Street Fire Station, erected on the site of the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building

A memorial service and procession for the firefighters were held in Worcester's Centrum Centre on December 9, 1999. The service was broadcast on several national news networks and was attended by President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator John Kerry (who flew non-stop from Burma, where he had been attending a diplomatic function).[20] Also in the procession were firefighters from around the United States, Canada, and from Dublin, Ireland.[21][22] The Boston Stock Exchange suspended business at 11.00 during the memorial and observed a minute's silence while a bell was rung in tribute on the trading floor.[23]

City leaders planned to erect a memorial to the men in Institute Park, adjacent to the Worcester Fire Headquarters station on Grove Street.[24] The Franklin Street Fire Station, officially opened November 19, 2008,[25] now sits on the land formerly occupied by the cold storage facility,[26] which was demolished immediately after the fire investigation. A memorial to the fallen firefighters, created by artist Brian P. Hanlon, is also located at this site.[25] Also, a banner hangs from the rafters in the DCU Center to commemorate the Worcester 6; it was raised by the Worcester Sharks AHL team on December 3, 2009.

Leary Firefighters Foundation[edit]

Denis Leary's first cousin, Jerry Lucey, and his childhood friend and high school classmate, Lt. Tommy Spencer, were both victims of the fire. Denis established The Leary Firefighters Foundation in the spring of 2000. In October 2000 Leary held the first "Celebrity Hat Trick" fundraiser including a hockey game, a golf tournament and a dinner. The hockey game was played at Worcester Centrum between a "Hollywood" team, including Michael J. Fox, Kiefer Sutherland, Tim Robbins and Rick Moranis, and a Boston Bruins Alumni Team, coached by Bobby Orr and including Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Derek Sanderson and Cam Neely. The hockey game raised $350,000 and is now an annual event. The proceeds went to Worcester and central Massachusetts fire departments to fund equipment, technology, and training, and to the families of firefighters who died or were injured in the line of duty.[27][28]

Film adaptation[edit]

Following the critical and commercial success of Sebastian Junger's 1997 book The Perfect Storm and the 2000 film of the same name, publishers and film-makers competed "ferociously" to bring the events of the Worcester fire to the big screen. In July 2000 journalist Sean Flynn sold the rights to a book version to Warner Bros. for a reputed six-figure advance. The book had not yet been written and the sale was made purely on the strength of Flynn's article "The Perfect Fire", published in the July 2000 issue of Esquire magazine.[29]

In September 2003 Warner Bros. hired English director Danny Boyle to shoot the project, provisionally titled Worcester Cold Storage.[30][31] Boyle replaced director Michael Mann who had left the project in February 2003, possibly as a result of the "slow-moving pre-production process."[32] Filming was expected to begin in early 2004 with an autumn 2004 release date.[33] The screenplay, based on Flynn's book (published in 2002 as 3000 Degrees: The True Story of a Deadly Fire and The Men Who Fought It ), was written by Worcester native Scott Silver in 2004.[34]

The project received lukewarm support from Worcester firefighters initially, which grew to "resistance from some quarters, and then flat-out objection."[34] Filming was scheduled to begin May 10, 2004, in Toronto, with Ed Harris and Woody Harrelson signed to star in the movie. Firefighters across North America protested about the insensitivity of the project and Worcester Fire Fighters IAFF Local 1009 wrote to other firefighters asking them not to participate in the movie's production. This resulted in the production company being unable to procure agreements in the United States or Canada to allow the use of firefighter insignia, while Canadian firefighters refused to act as extras and fire departments in the Toronto metropolitan area refused to lease firetrucks to the company.[35]

In April 2004, Warner Bros. and Image Entertainment, the production company, issued a joint statement saying that the making of a film the size and scope of Worcester Cold Storage was "a complex process that needed the support of various groups and individuals, including firefighters. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we no longer have such support. We have therefore decided not to move ahead with this project at this time." Frank Raffa, president of Local 1009, responded that firefighters "may one day drop their opposition" to the movie, "But we want to wait until the kids of our fallen comrades grow up."[35]

Ladder 49[edit]

The 2004 movie Ladder 49, directed by Jay Russell, told the story of a fictional Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison, who is trapped inside a warehouse fire, and his recollection of the events that got him to that point. The film, starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta, was based on the events of the Worcester fire, and Silver said: "[The makers of Ladder 49] were interested in the rights to the movie, but didn't get them. So they changed the location and the characters and kept the outline of the story."[34]

The Boston Herald said:

Ladder 49 isn't the movie that Hollywood threatened to make about the Worcester cold storage fire; opposition from the fallen firefighters' friends and family put the kibosh on "3,000 Degrees" last year. But those who were affected by the Worcester fire would do well to avoid this DVD anyway. It opens with firefighters attacking a large blaze in a tall, narrow, windowless structure. On a report that vagrants might be trapped in the otherwise deserted building, the firefighters search deep into its inner maze. As the fire grows more intense, one of them is trapped and apparently doomed. This is Baltimore, not Worcester, and the building is a grain elevator. But the parallels - including the immediate visual one - are creepy. The movie hardly justifies what pain it might cause.[36]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wedge, Dave; Hanchett, Doug; Martinez, Jose (December 5, 1999). "Fallen heroes - Firefighters' desperate final moments". The Boston Herald (Boston). p. 1. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Abandoned Cold Storage Warehouse Multi- Firefighter Fatality Fire". U.S. Fire Administration/Technical Report Series. December 1999. 
  3. ^ Hanchett, Doug (December 12, 2001). "SJC to hear case of pair blamed in Worcester fire". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d Flynn, Sean (July 1, 2000). "The Perfect Fire". Esquire. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Crittenden, Jules; Martinez, Jose (December 4, 1999). "Blaze kills 2 Worcester firefighters; 4 others feared dead". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b Farmer, Tom (December 3, 2000). "Worcester fights pain to honor spirit of sacrifice". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  7. ^ Ferdinand, Pamela (December 10, 1999). "6 Massachusetts Firefighters Honored; 30,000 Mourners Led by Clinton Pay Tribute to Men Killed in Fire". The Washington Post (Washington D.C.: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  8. ^ Wedge, Dave (December 12, 1999). "Fatal inferno made time 'stand still in Worcester'". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  9. ^ Farmer, Tom; Lawrence, J.M. (December 7, 1999). "Chief recalls deadly night; Building became dark, boiling oven". The Boston Herald (Boston). p. 5. 
  10. ^ Daniel, Mac; Latour, Francie (December 4, 1999). "2 firefighters dead, 4 missing: Six are trapped in Worcester warehouse fire". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  11. ^ "WORKERS START TEARING DOWN BURNED-OUT WAREHOUSE IN WORCESTER TRAGEDY THAT HIT THEIR CITY". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). December 13, 1999. Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  12. ^ Kujovich, Mary Yeager (Winter 1970). "The Refrigerator Car and the Growth of the American Dressed Beef Industry". The Business History Review 44 (4): 460. 
  13. ^ Hanchett, Doug; Lawrence, J.M. (May 26, 2000). "Firefighters widows sue warehouse owners". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 3, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Firefighters feared dead in Mass. blaze: Six were trapped in burning building". Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). December 4, 1999. Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  15. ^ Vaillancourt, Meg (December 5, 1999). "WAREHOUSE TENTATIVELY EYED AS PART OF PROPOSED BIOSCIENCE PARK". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  16. ^ Martinez, Jose (October 29, 2000). "Worcester firefighters among Medal of Honor recipients". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 2, 2014. 
  17. ^ Murray, Gary V. (January 22, 2010). "Charges dismissed in tragic blaze". Telegram & Gazette (Worcester). Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  18. ^ Grillo, Thomas (December 6, 1999). "OWNER OF WAREHOUSE OFFERS CONDOLENCES". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  19. ^ Schweitzer, Sarah; Russell, Jenna (December 3, 2009). "STILL MOURNED IN WORCESTER". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved March 30, 2014. 
  20. ^ Jarvey, Paul (December 9, 1999). "Words are not enough". Telegram & Gazette (Worcester). Archived from the original on April 5, 2003. 
  21. ^ Astell, Emilie; Sutner, Shaun (December 8, 1999). "From president to residents, 25,000 expected at tribute". Telegram & Gazette (Worcester). Archived from the original on July 30, 2007. 
  22. ^ "'MY OWN BROTHER PASSED AWAY'". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). December 10, 1999. Retrieved April 1, 2014. 
  23. ^ Lawrence, J.M. (December 9, 1999). "Thousands to pay tribute to fallen heroes; Service honors sacrifice of brave 'jakes'". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 1, 2014. 
  24. ^ "The Memorial". fallen-heroes.org. Archived from the original on December 22, 2012. 
  25. ^ a b "Fireman's Memorial: Worcester Cold Storage Tragedy". City of Worcester, MA. Archived from the original on January 4, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Worcester Opens Fire Station At Deadly Fire Site". WBZ-TV. November 19, 2008. Archived from the original on March 23, 2009. 
  27. ^ Conroy, Steve (September 1, 2000). "Leary's 'Trick' no joke". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  28. ^ Pave, Martin (September 17, 2000). "STARS COME OUT FOR FIREFIGHTERS". The Boston Globe (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved April 4, 2014. 
  29. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (July 30, 2000). "After the perfect storm, the big fire: Hollywood's latest blockbuster is spawning a series of movies based on real-life disasters". The Observer (London). p. 9. 
  30. ^ "Hollywood news: Danny's on the boil". Daily Mirror (London). September 26, 2003. p. 16. 
  31. ^ "Prime time: Sir Hopkins is homeward bound". The Belfast News Letter (Belfast). September 20, 2003. p. 35. 
  32. ^ Harris, Dana (February 24, 2003). "'Perfect Fire' burns without director". Daily Variety (Los Angeles: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). Retrieved March 31, 2014. 
  33. ^ "DANNY'S FIRED UP". Daily Mirror (London). September 17, 2003. p. 16. 
  34. ^ a b c Keogh, Jim (December 2, 2009). "Cold Storage movie may hit screens yet". Worcester Magazine (Worcester). Retrieved March 31, 2014. 
  35. ^ a b Kush, Bronislaus B. (April 7, 2004). "Warehouse fire movie canceled: Firefighter union opposed project". Telegram and Gazette (Worcester). Retrieved March 31, 2014. 
  36. ^ "False alarm; 'Ladder 49' cheesy take on firefighting". The Boston Herald (Boston: via HighBeam Research (subscription required)). March 4, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2014. 

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