The Worcester Six: A Worcester Firefighter’s Story

By Christopher Rooney |

By Bro. John Sullivan. Bro. Sullivan is the fire chief in Brookline, MA. He served in Worcester on the night of the infamous December 3, 1999 fire.

Bro. John Sullivan.

Most days are routine. Most days you can count on doing a few EMS runs, some “smells and bells,” a handful of automatic alarms, and maybe a reported building fire just to spice things up. Usually, they don’t turn out to be all that memorable; the day, however, can go sideways very quickly. Mundane routine turns to life-altering in the space of just a few short minutes. When I started my night tour as Lieutentant of Worcester Fire Department Engine 3 on December 3rd, 1999? Life-altering is exactly what my experience was.

Every firefighter (and most citizens of Massachusetts) know the basic facts of what transpired. Some committed “jakes” have studied the reports and tried to delve deeper into the “whys” and “wherefores” of that night. Only a few of us who were actually on-duty know the intimate personal details – details that would forever shape our vision of the fire service and our lives outside of it; good and bad; beautiful and ugly; heroic and tragic.

Genuine heartbreak often defies description. The public and most important account of that night is about the Worcester Six; the rest of our stories are justifiably superfluous outside of our own skin. Those who survived were left to their own devices to cope with their own horrific memories, paralyzing self-doubts and persistent fears; we are often unfittingly graded as more tragic than heroic.

So how does my terrible experience translate to Freemasonry? How do I use the lessons learned and the principles inculcated in our degrees to make sense of the world after such an experience? I use the working tools and the ancient landmarks much in the same way I use a thermal imaging camera and a knotted search rope to find my way; both of these examples represent tools that were unknown to me before I was awoken – by the grace of God – to a vigorous personal search for enlightenment and ultimate personal and professional salvation.

“Salvation you say?” Yes, my brothers, salvation – redemption, deliverance, rescue, recovery, escape – working tools so profound that they literally and figuratively saved me from what could have been a desperate downward spiral.

When all hope is gone, when fire consumes all that is good and holy in your life, you are at a crossroads.

The legendary Blues guitarist Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads, but there was an alternate choice – redemption.

The Grand Architect of the Universe is also at the crossroads if you choose to acknowledge his presence.

Editor’s note: Freemasonry is not a religious organization, but does refer to higher power as a non-denominational Grand Architect of the Universe. Learn more on our FAQ page.

If your heart is opened by love, by tragedy, or by your own pursuit; whatever the reason, whatever path brought you here, Freemasonry is a great landing spot for good men who seek truth, fellowship and service. Freemasonry offered me a far-better alternative; a unique, unwavering group of brothers who would not stand in judgement, but with me on the level. Men who would guide me through a proven pathway to build a better version of myself from the ground up.

As a Mason, you have an obligation not to hoard that which could be so valuable to so many brothers in the line-of-duty. Share the gift that was so readily given to you when you petitioned to be a Mason. Sponsor a brother first responder into one of the most valuable assets we enjoy in our lives – the bountiful gift of Freemasonry.

The Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts is holding a One Day Class in honor of first responders on September 11th, 2021.