By; Lou Angeli
December 22, 2010 -- Today firefighters and emergency personnel worldwide mourn the loss of 2 brave Chicago firefighters who perished during a building collapse in south city. It came on the 100th anniversary of the Union Stock Yards fire, which killed 21 Chicago firefighters.
The sad incident in Chicago reminds us of Decembers past. 11 years ago this month a devastating collapse claimed the lives of 6 Worcester, Mass Firefighters who were lost as they searched for 2 vagrants in the Worcester Cold Storage blaze. The fire started when a simple candle being used by a homeless duo fell over during an argument. The couple left the structure, notified no one, and in a short time flames quickly spread to the 8 story, windowless, heavily loaded structure.
As the fire progressed to 5-Alarms, the couple stood watching the firefight from the street until police moved them into a sandwich shop across from the fire building. They never told anyone that they had started the fire. Locals knew that the couple was using the building and informed command that they might possibly be inside.
Believing that 2 vagrants were indeed trapped, a team of two Worcester rescuers entered to search for them but became disoriented on the upper floors. A second Rescue Team of four sent in to find the first team also became disoriented. The building soon collapsed and the firefighters were lost. The blaze was so intense that it took 8 days to recover the bodies. As to the vagrants, Thomas Levesque and Julie Ann Barnes, they received probation for causing the deaths of 6 fine men.
11 years ago today -- just weeks after Worcester -- tragedy struck the fire service during a much different scenario. Three Keokuk, Iowa firefighters were killed during a flashover while searching a 2 story home for trapped children. Staffing on the 2 responding engines was 2 -- the driver operators, a Lieutenant and an Assistant Chief. Hearing screams from inside the structure, rescue was their immediate mission. No lines were charged as the trio braved the flames in search of the kids but within minutes they were gone. The lone fire lieutenant, standing by to charge a hydrant, was unable to see the drama unfold as smoke blanketed the area. There was no automatic Mutual Aid.