storage warehouse

Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire

The Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire was a fire that began on December 3, 1999, in Worcester, Massachusetts. It started when two homeless and mentally disabled people, Thomas S. Levesque and Julie Ann Barnes, who were living inside the warehouse, knocked over a candle after an argument earlier in the afternoon. Both fled without reporting the fire to emergency services. The structure was located five blocks east of the Worcester central business district, near the Union Station train station and adjacent to Interstate highway 290. The fire would eventually grow to five-alarm status and rage for six days before being brought under control. Firefighting companies from the city and from neighboring towns were called to respond.

Reports that homeless people were possibly inside the engulfed warehouse caused fire-rescue personnel to search the six-story building. The searchers' task was made extremely difficult by the large size of the building's interior and the highly flammable composition of its insulation. Nearly a century old, the interior walls had been progressively covered with various forms of insulating materials, including cork impregnated with tar, polystyrene foam, and polyurethane foam, to a thickness of 18 inches. Once ignited, the large amount of fuel, fed initially by the large volume of air in the building, became virtually inextinguishable.

The six-story building's exterior walls were constructed of approximately 18 inches of brick and mortar, with no windows above the second floor. The lack of available windows prevented firefighting personnel from making an accurate initial assessment of the fire. Initial breaching of lower-floor doors, combined with venting the building by smashing an elevator-shaft roof skylight, effectively turned the building into a huge chimney. With the fire rapidly accelerating out of control, rescue teams facing near-zero visibility became lost with available breathing oxygen depleted. Despite repeated radio calls for help, along with activation of audible location alarms, six firefighters, who have since become known as the Worcester 6, perished in the blaze. It took eight days to find and recover the remains of the six men.

Services for the firefighters were held in the DCU Center (then called the Worcester Centrum). The funeral procession was broadcast on several national news networks and was attended by President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Senator Ted Kennedy and Senator John Kerry (who flew overnight from Vietnam to attend the funeral).

City leaders plan to erect a memorial to the Six in Institute Park, behind the Grove Street fire station. A new fire station is currently under construction on the land formerly occupied by the cold storage facility, which was demolished immediately after the fire investigation.

Manslaughter charges against Levesque and Barnes were initially dismissed, but were reinstated on appeal. They received probation. Julie Ann Barnes was adopted by a family in Maine, the Kings, who had adopted Julie's sister.

The building's owners were not charged.


Time Incident
6:13PM The first alarm was dispatched.
6:14PM Engine 1 arrived on location reporting they had heavy smoke showing.
6:17PM Car 3 requests the 2nd alarm be struck.
6:20PM Ladder 1 reported fire on the second floor, and had multiple 2-1/2" lines being put in service for the suppression efforts.
6:24PM Fire alarm tells command that they have a report that a citizen told a police officer that "may be two people that live in that building."
6:32PM Car 3 asks Rescue 1 if they've checked on the rumor of the two homeless people. Rescue 1 reports they have made a preliminary search, and haven't found anyone.
6:40PM Car 2 requests the 3rd alarm be struck.
6:46PM Rescue 1 reports to command that they are lost on the fourth floor and they are running out of air.
6:47PM Rescue 1 calls Fire Alarm asking them to clear the air, and they have an emergency.
6:47PM The Fire Alarm dispatcher sounds the alert tones.
6:52PM Car 2 requests the 4th alarm be struck and Chief Budd be notified.
6:53PM Car 3 directs Rescue 1 to activate the PASS devices to aid the other companies in locating them.
6:55PM "They are activated," referring to the PASS devices. This is the last audible transmission from Rescue 1.
7:04PM Ladder 2/Portable 2 asks Portable 1 his location. Portable 1 replies "Good question." They are now lost with Engine 3 on the fifth floor.
7:08PM Ladder 2 requests for the Chief to send a crew to the stairwell and yell, so they can find it. They also report they are running low on air.
7:15PM "Ladder 2 to command we're done..." This is the last transmission of the four man search team from Ladder 2/Engine 3.
7:26PM Car 1 requests the 5th alarm be struck.
The Millbury Fire Department came on mutual aid to the scene. They brought a Thermal imaging camera with them. This was to be used in assisting the firefighters locate the missing firefighters.
7:53PM Car 4 reports the thermal imager has stopped working.
7:58PM Car 3 signals for all companies to evacuate the building.

The firefighters

Rank Name Age Hometown Company
Firefighter Paul Brotherton 41 Auburn, MA Rescue 1
Firefighter Jeremiah Lucey 38 Leicester, MA Rescue 1
Lieutenant Thomas Spencer 42 Worcester, MA Ladder 2
Firefighter Timothy Jackson 51 Hopedale, MA Ladder 2
Firefighter James Lyons 34 Worcester, MA Engine 3
Firefighter Joseph McGuirk 38 Worcester, MA Engine 3


  • US Fire Administration Official *Report
  • Telegram & Gazette - Worcester, MA
  •'s information page
  • Flynn, Sean. 3000 Degrees: The True Story of a Deadly Fire and the Men Who Fought It. New York: Warner Books, 2002. ISBN 0446528315

See also


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