Six firefighters were lost on December 3, 1999, who we will never forget, but how many were saved due to the brave actions of this fire chief? It takes bravery to enter a burning structure but at times it also takes bravery to not go in.

The courage it must have taken not to go in. One minute is what it took for one man to stand strong in the face of great tragedy.

Eighteen years ago this past Sunday a police officer driving by the Cold Storage and Warehouse Co in Westchester, Mass., noticed a fire in the large building. The first call came in at 6:15 p.m. and over the next hour and a half the fire would go to five alarms bringing over 70 firefighters to fight the blaze.

NIOSH reports that some of the original crews that responded were ordered to conduct a search of the building as it was thought that there were homeless people inside. At 6:47 p.m. two firefighters sent a message to command that they had become lost and were in need of assistance.

Almost immediately, additional firefighters were sent in to locate and rescue their colleagues. During these rescue efforts four additional firefighters became lost.

A seasoned lieutenant made his way out of the warehouse and gave the commanding officer an update on the conditions he saw inside the building. He reported that they were faced with zero visibility and extreme heat that was making any search and rescue impossible.

The commanding officer was Chief McNamee. He knew he had six firefighters in that building; he knew that the decision placed on his shoulders was a life and death decision. He needed a minute and he took it.

You hear talk of bravery, men and women running into burning structures when everyone else is running out. You see the heartbreaking pictures of firefighters carrying children in their arms with the burning house in the background and thick black smoke all around them.

What you never hear about is the bravery it takes to say “No More.” Chief McNamee said exactly that, “Look, it’s over, it’s over. No more.” Firefighters are taught to save lives, and when it is one of their brothers or sisters they will risk even more. Imagine the courage it took for the chief to say that it’s over and when it appeared they were going to ignore his order, to then physically stand and blocked the doorway.

The firefighters were mad, they were yelling at the chief in utter disbelief, but he stood his ground raised his voice and told his crews, “Look, we have already lost six; we are not going to lose any more.” It took over a week for the bodies of all six firefighters to be located and in the years since this tragedy a new firehouse was constructed on this sacred ground.

Six firefighters were lost on December 3, 1999, who we will never forget, but how many were saved due to the brave actions of this fire chief? It takes bravery to enter a burning structure but at times it also takes bravery to not go in.