Keynote Address, Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Committee

By Dennis D. Berkey, President, WPI

At the Campaign Kick-Off
Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Committee June 6, 2005

WPI is pleased to host this most important gathering, one that signifies not only the respect and appreciation that the Worcester community holds for its firefighters and its community, but which shows, not just symbolically but on a far deeper and more meaningful level, the emotional understanding we have for the sacrifices made by six heroic firefighters on December 3, 1999.

On that day, Paul Brotherton, Jerry Lucey, Timothy Jackson, James Lyons III, Joseph McGuirk, and Thomas Spencer reported for duty, responded as they were trained, and in their ultimate allegiance to their creed, became much more than firefighters, more than members of this community, more than heroes. They joined the ranks of those who teach us most profoundly the enduring lessons of honor and of duty – of what it means to be human, to be civilized, and to be willing to pay the ultimate price for the values we hold most important.

Irish novelist Brian Moore has written that, "The world's made up of individuals who don't want to be heroes." Firefighters do not crave the spotlight. They do not long for the eyes of the world, of a nation, or even of their community, to be upon them. Yet as the rubble of the mazelike building which was the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse and Company still lay smoldering, several thousand mourners came to this city – firefighters, police officers, city officials, dignitaries, and ordinary citizens – from surrounding communities, from nearly every state, and from abroad. They marched toward what was then known as the Worcester Centrum Centre, to attend a memorial service where President Clinton and other high dignitaries would speak.

That service was scheduled to start at 11 a.m. But the line of marchers that followed a Worcester Fire Department color guard and seven rows of bagpipers past the Central Street Fire Station, where Brotherton and Lucey had worked, was by then only halfway to its destination, filing somberly past those who lined the marching route, standing six or seven deep. Over an hour later, the service finally began. Thousands who had traveled long distances could not get inside the Centrum, but stood outside to listen to the service.

The mourning for those six lives on that day was profound, but not complete. There was a strong sense that more should be done to memorialize and celebrate not only these men, but the creed by which they worked and the community they served.

The International Association of Fire Fighters Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial, a granite wall of honor on which names of firefighters who have perished are inscribed, is located in Colorado Springs. Following the Worcester tragedy, the names of Brotherton, Lucey, Jackson, Lyons, McGuirk, and Spencer were added to that wall. At the unveiling ceremony, Harold Schaitberger, general president of the IAFF, said, "You must view the wall of names behind me not only as a wall of honor but as a wall of support for you and all those who visit the memorial. Take comfort in knowing that the brothers and sisters who were added to the memorial this year and hundreds before them were engaged in the most honorable of professions."

On that day in Colorado Springs our city's tragedy became emblematic not just of the dangers of the profession but also of the courage and brotherhood of a profession in which people join together, even with others they have never before met, both in times of kinship and joy and in times of loss and sorrow.

In the years that have followed, this city has united in a singular purpose to ensure that present and future generations will never forget the tragedy of December 3, 1999, and the six who died in the line of duty. Two years ago the Worcester City Council unanimously approved a plan for constructing a memorial. It has been formally named the Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Park 5-1438, Dec. 3, 1999. The numbers stand for the five alarms and Box 1438, the fire department code for the former location of the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Company building at 266 Franklin Street.

Please note picture on the right:  An artist's rendering of Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Park, which will be erected in Institute Park, near the WPI campus.

Located on seven acres behind the city's fire headquarters training division, the Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial Park will be dedicated not just to our six heroes, but also to the education of all who visit the site, so they will learn about the fire, the nobility of firefighters, and the wonderful community these six men served. The chosen site is located on a peninsula that juts into Salisbury Pond, which will again be linked to Institute Park by a footbridge.

WPI is proud to be one of the sponsors and participants in both the revitalization of Institute Park and the Fire Fighters Memorial. The symbolism of the memorial blends so well, not just with the city's heroes, but also with the home in which it will reside. Six vertical pillars lean inward, symbolizing the unity of the six men who died. Beams of light project from the top of each monument to an intersecting, single point in the night sky, signifying the union of the six with the community they served.

While the memorial will be the centerpiece, the renewed urban park will offer a beautiful space for tranquil reflection and enjoyment, attract and protect a variety of wildlife, and provide an excellent public venue for the Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra. The playing of music in the park and the creation of an environment in which both nature and humanity can flourish will add joy to remembrance, and engage future lives with these six important lives that have sadly gone before us.

As WPI faculty work to develop technologies to improve firefighter safety and rescue, and, through our graduate programs in fire protection engineering, to reduce the risks of fire for everyone, we share the firefighters' commitment to serving and protecting our fellow citizens, our communities, and our way of life. The values that bind our university community, focusing as much on the character of our members as on their intellect, are the values that bind WPI to Worcester, that make Worcester such a worthy and special community, and that unite firefighters everywhere.

American educator Felix Adler once remarked that, "The hero is the one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for [us] to see by." A national competition for the design of this memorial has resulted in a monument that will be much more than an instrument for mourning the past. It will be a creation of light and value – something that has enabled us all to draw together as we work to create a place in which our community and its visitors can be reminded of how memory gives our lives meaning, how it illuminates our present existence, and buoys our hearts and our spirits.

Through our support of the campaign for the Worcester Fire Fighters Memorial, we are honoring a tragedy in the most appropriate way: by creating a place not just of permanent remembrance, but also for the continual healing, renewal, and progress of our entire community. It will speak to our generation and from our generation, for many generations to come.

It is an honor to speak for, and to support, this important campaign.

June 6, 2005