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Firefighter dies in Mass. multi-family home blaze

By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press / December 8, 2011
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WORCESTER, Mass.—A burning apartment building partially collapsed Thursday and buried two Worcester firefighters in debris, killing one and reviving memories of a fire that killed six firemen 12 years ago.

Jon Davies, a 17-year department veteran and father of three, was found on the first floor of the triple-decker apartment and pronounced dead at a hospital. His partner, Brian Carroll, slid into the basement but was freed after about an hour and is expected to recover, fire officials said.

Davies' death comes days after the anniversary of the Worcester Cold Storage building fire that killed six firefighters on Dec. 3, 1999.

Lifelong Worcester resident Tom Tynan, a school bus driver, said the warehouse fire was the first thing he thought of after he learned Davies, 43, had died.

"As soon as I found out that somebody was dead, you're thinking, `Oh, God again,'" said Tynan, 58. "I mean, I know it wasn't six, but one's too many."

"There must be a lot of heavy hearts in the city now," Tynan added. "It might be 12 years, but it's not long enough. It's like it happened yesterday."

Davies was one of the first fire fighters on the scene of the 1999 blaze, said Deputy Fire Chief Geoffrey Gardell. He worked at a firehouse dedicated on the former warehouse site, less than a mile from Thursday's fire high in the Vernon Hill section of the central Massachusetts city.

Gardell said it's inevitable Davies' death will bring the 1999 tragedy to mind. But he said, "We're not any different from anybody else across the country," and noted close to 100 U.S. firefighters die on duty each year.

In a statement at an afternoon news conference, the Davies family expressed its "heartfelt gratitude" to city and fire union officials, as well as "all the firefighters that worked so very hard to rescue their loved one."

The fire early Thursday was reported around 4:20 a.m. at an apartment that housed about a dozen people, officials said.

Gardell said the commander at the scene pulled firefighters out of the building after signs it could collapse. But Davies and Carroll went back in after a report someone might still be inside.

"They weren't in there for four minutes when the major collapse happened," Gardell said.

Fire crews were in contact with Carroll during rescue efforts, but not with Davies. He was pronounced dead after being taken by ambulance to UMass Memorial Medical Center.

On Thursday afternoon, fire crews were still searching for the missing resident in the blackened mass of debris at the collapsed rear of the building.

City manager Michael O'Brien said the building has a history of sanitary and structural code violations, and the city was headed to housing court with the owner Monday. He said there were no fire code violations.

A number for the building owner could not immediately be located.

Fire Chief Gerard Dio said officials hadn't determined the cause of fire, including whether it was suspicious, though he noted that the blaze spread quickly.

"The fire took off pretty good. It was in the back of the structure and we don't know if there were any accelerants involved yet," Dio said.

Davies has three sons, two in the military, including one deployed in Afghanistan. He also leaves a mother, sister and fiancée.

Dio declined to speak in depth about Davies at a morning news conference.

"I'm too emotional at this point. I would rather keep my composure," he said.

In the 1999 blaze, the six firefighters died after becoming trapped inside the warehouse. Investigators said the blaze started when two homeless people knocked over a candle and left the building. The firefighters went in to make sure no one was inside.

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were among thousands who attended a memorial service days later at a Worcester arena, while firefighters were still working to recover the remains of their colleagues from the ruins of the building.

Now faced again with having to bury another colleague, a weary-looking Gardell said there wasn't much to do but try to move on.

"Just move on," he said. "Do our job and move on."

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