This Day In History

Insane To Think That It’s Been 20 Years Since The Worcester Cold Storage Fire Took The Lives Of 6 Firefighters


It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago today a fire began at the Cold Storage building on Franklin Street in Worcester, and six firefighters who went inside looking to save two crackheads, never came out. Everyone who grew up around here remembers what it used to say on the side of that building, which you’d see when you drove by it on 290:

“Every great American city has at least 1 college, Worcester has 10.”

I don’t think that’s completely true, but right after seeing the gigantic polar bear it was the signal that you were almost home. I had no idea what the building was, other than a huge chunk of bricks that existed to tell me how many colleges we had. But the fact that a multi story maze of a building like that can even exist without windows and lights, is bonkers. This article from Worcester Magazine 10 years ago is probably the best story I’ve ever read on it. Try taking a trip down memory land and checking out all these pictures from the tragedy on the Turtlegram, and not shedding a tear. You can’t.


This picture is still amazing, showing what looks exactly like a firefighter rising from the building.

Everyone from around here remembers where they were that night. I was a senior in high school working at State Liquor in bottle returns. It was the greatest job I’ve ever had. On my first day there I was instructed that part of the job required emptying out a coke can and refilling it with your choice of beer all night long. I used to look forward to going to work.

I remember on that night the old guy I worked with came back and told me that two firefighters were missing on Franklin Street. I didn’t think much of it, because missing doesn’t mean dead, and I’d never heard of firefighters dying in Worcester before so obviously they’d show up.

This was also before Twitter or anything, so news traveled slowly. In actuality the two missing firefighters (Jeremiah Lucey and Paul Brotherton) had gone to the roof to vent it when they became overcome with smoke and went radio silent. The other four (Tom Spencer, Tim Jackson, Joe McGuirk, Jay Lyons) went missing trying to find them and the two homeless people who had started the fire and left hours earlier. It took 8 days sifting through rubble before they were all discovered. President Clinton came to Worcester for the millionth time to deliver the eulogy at the DCU center. 

When I found out that six were dead I was stunned. Worcester is a small place, so the odds that I’d know somebody whose father or brother was one of the six was pretty high. As it turned out one of those six was Tom Spencer. Mr. Spencer, his wife and his three kids lived in my neighborhood growing up. His oldest Pat was a year behind me at Tatnuck, and their daughter Casey was in my brother’s grade. The youngest brother Dan is a firefighter at the Tatnuck Square station, a place we used to take field trips to as kids. I remember Mr. Spencer being like a celebrity to kids at Tatnuck. Everyone knew that their Dad was a firefighter, and I remember events he was invited to where he showed up in his formal firefighter clothing. The idea that he could be taken so suddenly like that was almost impossible to grasp at first.

Knowing one of the six wasn’t rare though. Pretty much everyone had a connection to someone who died in that fire. But it hasn’t stopped several of their children from joining the Worcester Fire Department, and it’s important that we don’t forget their sacrifices.


10 Comment(s)
  • Jack
    December 13, 2019 at 5:41 pm

    Sad day for sure, remember it well. The Feds are coming in to investigate the latest death. Also, the widow of Lt. Thomas Spencer wrote a excellent letter to the Telegram. It details her feelings on the last 20 years. “Change must be made to stop cycle of deaths in Worcester”. Her letter hit it on the mark, she’s obviously a very educated woman too!

  • Leary’s hairdo
    December 4, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    20 years where’d they go,
    Was working construction at the new hospital across from The centrum
    I was gonna grab breakfast before work at that diner car under the highway,
    The street was closed,
    Got front row seat for the greatest memorial parade I’ve ever seen.

    Rip boys.

  • soxrock191
    December 4, 2019 at 2:33 am

    Nicely written Unc.
    We Still Remember…..We Always Will.

    The haters here need to learn to respect the social contract. You don’t have to like The Turtle. But don’t spew your disgusting vile words of hate here on an article honoring those that would sacrifice their lives to save you & your family.

  • Remember the W 6
    December 4, 2019 at 1:49 am

    I wonder if the two idiots that started the fire are still alive?
    Never forget the sacrifice those six men made, along with all the others.

  • Said Everyone
    December 3, 2019 at 7:03 pm

    Feels lime that was yesterday. Hope all the families are doing well on this somber day

  • Uncle kiss ass
    December 3, 2019 at 5:29 pm

    TB kissing ass again we know why you were fired keep trying.

  • Colon Kaeperdink
    December 3, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Those cracker ass firefighters were on stolen land

    • John Wypyszinski
      Herr Doktor
      December 3, 2019 at 4:10 pm

      Did your parents have any kids who lived? Because they’re regretting you, asshole. Douchebags like you need to be writing letters of apology to the trees and plants for making them work overtime by your existing. May you go out in a fire with no one to save your worthless ass. Save your BS for something else this is neither the time nor the place for it fucko, some of us were there that night.

    • Westcoast Turtle
      December 4, 2019 at 1:00 am

      Those guys didn’t ask whose land it was when they responded. They didn’t ask what the people looked like who might have still been in the building. They went in, did their job, and didn’t come out. Firefighting isn’t race based, or political. Six heroes. RIP.

  • Josh Jasie
    Trucker Turtle Rider
    December 3, 2019 at 2:41 pm

    Firefighter Prayer:

    When I am called to duty, God wherever flames may rage,
    give me strength to save a life, whatever be its age.
    Help me to embrace a little child before it’s too late,
    or save an older person from the horror of that fate.
    Enable me to be alert to hear the weakest shout,
    and quickly and efficiently to put the fire out.
    I want to fill my calling and to give the best in me,
    to guard my neighbor and protect his property.
    And if according to your will I have to lose my life,
    bless with your protecting hand my loving family from strife.

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