Thursday, March 10, 2011

Strand Theatre Fire Victims Remembered

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Seventy-years after 13 Brockton firefighters were killed when the roof of the Strand Theatre collapsed, their loss and those who were injured during the March 10, 1941 blaze were remembered on the 70th anniversary.
“We want to reassure their families, and ours that we will always remember those who died,” said Fire Chief Richard Francis during a ceremony this morning at City Hall.
More than 100 firefighters, police, city officials and residents gathered in the City Hall rotunda to honor those who died in the third highest loss of firefighter’s lives in the country.
Thirteen members of the department died and more than 20 were injured when the roof of the Strand Theatre caved in on firefighters as they fought a blaze that had become so hot it is believed a steel truss holding up the roof gave way.
Francis noted 70 years ago those firefighters who were hurt—some crippled and maimed—did not have health insurance, retirement disability didn’t exist, there was no worker’s compensation and counseling for emotional struggles following the tragedy wasn’t to come for more than 30 years.
“They literally crawled back to work,” Francis said.
Francis said the Strand was built in 1916 and rebuilt in 1937 with all of the latest fire safety equipment after a fire gutted the building.
Like the Strand, Francis said, despite having the latest fire safety technology, life-taking conflagrations still happen.
“This tragedy still can, and does go on across the country today,” Francis said.
This year’s ceremony featured Brockton Firefighters Pipe and Drum Corps, Brockton Police Color Guard and pictures of the Strand Theatre from the Fire Museum.
Archibald Gormley, head of the department’s union, said this year marks the beginning of a new tradition. Along with the usual remembrance, every year beginning with 2011 a wreath will be placed on the Strand Theatre FireFighter’s Memorial outside City Hall.
Participants were invited to the annual memorial breakfast at Keating Hall on Perkins Avenue after ceremonies at City Hall.
Mayor Linda Balzotti said she has been asked why the city continues to hold a ceremony for those who died since except for former Fire Chief Edward “Sonny” Burrell, few of the firefighters or families of the members who were killed or hurt remain alive.
Balzotti said a friend of her father, Joe McNeill was the son of firefighter John M. McNeill—one of those killed in the 1941 Strand fire.
Balzotti said like Joe, she also lost her father at a young age. Because Joe understood what that was like, he often reminded her that her father would be extremely proud of her.
“He knew to do that because he had lost his father too young, too,” Balzotti said, noting it is important to remember those who have died, in service to the community or in our own lives.
“No life that is lost is unimportant,” she said.

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