Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire December 3, 1999
Fourteen years ago six men entered a burning building under their own power, perhaps partially propelled by adrenalin -- the rush that comes with pitched combat.
But this was no ordinary fire, nor was the Worcester Cold Storage building an ordinary structure.
The windowless six story century old building contained layers and layers of petroleum based insulation -- high octane food for The Beast. And the interior layout was the same top to bottom making it a confusing maze, easy to get lost even under the best of conditions.
Two firefighters did get lost, under the worst of conditions, somewhere on the fourth floor, with their vital air supply quickly running out. Without hesitation a four man rescue company hurried to their aid. They too became lost.
All six perished doing what they love: Protecting everyday citizens -- even homeless ones who don't pay taxes.
The structure, dubbed "The building from Hell," continued to burn for six days as if taunting first responders, now in a recovery mode of operation. By the eight day all six bodies were carried out of the rubble by members of the Worcester Fire Department.
Deep down inside every first responder knows an awful truth: on any given day, any given call, circumstances can overwhelm training, guts and camaraderie. As it did that awful night fourteen years ago.
And would again less than two years later when 343 firefighters perished carrying out the largest rescue operation in our nation's history. Or just last summer when a wildfire suddenly changed direction and overran an elite unit of 19 Arizona firefighters.
The Beast can never be completely eradicated, only controlled from one incident to the next. By flesh-and-blood firefighters who put their lives on the line, every time.
Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports (A day to remember)