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A somber anniversary was being marked in Worcester on Wednesday as the city remembered the six firefighters who died battling a warehouse blaze 15 years ago.
A ceremony was scheduled for later Wednesday at the Franklin Street fire station, which was built on the site where the Worcester cold storage warehouse once stood. There was a planned moment of silence at 6:13 p.m., when the first alarm was struck.
The fire that investigators said was started by two homeless people destroyed the building on Dec. 3, 1999, and claimed the lives of Lt. Thomas Spencer, Lt. Timothy Jackson Sr., Lt. James Lyons III, and firefighters Jeremiah Lucey, Paul Brotherton and Joseph McGuirk.
The first firefighters entered the warehouse to search for possible occupants, but the man and woman who were later charged with starting the blaze had already left the building. Other firefighters then became trapped while trying to rescue their colleagues.
Spencer's son, Daniel, is now 28 and a firefighter serving at the same Grove Street station where his father worked and where a photo of Thomas Spencer still hangs by the front door next to those of the other firefighters who died.
Daniel Spencer told the Telegram and Gazette of Worcester he remembers going with his mother to the fire scene 15 years ago and seeing hundreds of people gathered in mourning.
"I just didn't realize the scope of it until I got there," he said.
A scholarship fund established in memory of the firefighters has raised $644,000 and awarded 266 scholarships to Worcester high school students over the years.
Actor and comedian Denis Leary created a nonprofit foundation after the fire that donates money to help fire departments purchase the best possible firefighting equipment. A Worcester native, Leary was Lucey's cousin and a childhood friend of Spencer.
John Sullivan, a deputy Worcester fire chief who as a lieutenant responded to the fire in 1999, said the painful memories never diminish.
"There's no way to avoid the loss and the grief that comes along with the anniversary every year," he said.
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