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Firefighter's Death Brings To Mind 'Worcester 6' Tragedy

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State and Worcester fire officials are mourning the loss of a Worcester firefighter who died while battling a blaze Thursday. Jon Davies, 43, was killed when a burning triple-decker he entered collapsed.

The backdrop to Thursday's tragedy was the warehouse fire in Worcester 12 years ago that killed six city firefighters.

Undated photo of fallen firefighter Jon Davies (AP/Worcester Fire Department)
Undated photo of fallen firefighter Jon Davies (AP/Worcester Fire Department)

There was no escaping the memory of the deadly 1999 Cold Storage Warehouse fire. During a press conference on Thursday at the fire station built where the warehouse once stood, next to a memorial for those now known as the “Worcester 6," Deputy Fire Chief Geoffrey Gardell said Davies was at that warehouse fire.

“He was assigned to Engine 1 back in 1999 and was one of the first on the scene at the Cold Storage Warehouse fire. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and with Jon,” Gardell said.

Davies was a 17-year veteran of the department. He leaves behind three sons and was to be married on New Year’s Eve. Davies and his partner, Brian Carroll, were members of the fire department’s special operations technical team, established after the 1999 fire. They were both trained in special procedures to use when entering burning buildings. When they heard that one of the occupants of the three-family-home might still be inside, they both went in.

A few minutes later, the building collapsed.

“This collapse trapped two of our brother firefighters. They were extricated by our special operations team. These members performed admirably under extreme and dangerous circumstances to remove their brother firefighters from the collapsed rubble," Gardell said.

Firefighter Carroll is hospitalized and is expected to make a full recovery. The state fire marshal, Stephen Coan, said Thursday investigators are trying to determine not only how the fire started, but also whether someone might still be trapped.

Although neighbors say that squatters were living in the house and it was essentially abandoned, Worcester City Manager Michael O’Brien said the building was no longer abandoned and Thursday had 12 tenants living there.

But he said it was a troubled property.

“These properties had numerous complaints and violations. There were many responses by the city for inspections and re-inspections. It was set for a court date on the 12th of December. We’ve had over 30 Worcester Police Department responses to this property as well,” O'Brien said.

Again, a reminder of 1999: the Cold Storage Warehouse was vacant and had been for some time. The fire there started when two homeless people knocked over a candle.

Coan said that although this is another tragedy, all firefighters are now safer.

“The Worcester Fire Department led this state and the county in learning how to better protect our firefighters and operate in the unsafe environments we find ourselves in. Their example led to a better method of us as firefighters working in these unsafe buildings," Coan said.

The 1999 fire prompted actor and Worcester native Dennis Leary to establish a foundation to provide resources and equipment to the nation’s firefighters. He released a statement Thursday, saying, “Once again, the courage and bravery displayed by members of this profession under the most dire of circumstances while trying to save those in peril is brought to our attention.”

This program aired on December 9, 2011.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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