WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ One begged his dad to take him to fires when he was just a boy, listening to fire calls on his own scanner. Another followed a rich family tradition of 200 years of firefighting. And a third was the father of six young sons.

As searchers on Sunday recovered the first of six firefighters who perished in a vacant warehouse fire last week, families of the victims told their tales and shared their grief.

``I have three children ... who want everybody to know their father was not one who ever shied away from anything. Anything he did in his life he did with true dedication, with true spirit,'' said Kathy Spencer, the wife of Lt. Thomas E. Spencer, who died in the Dec. 3 blaze.

The body of Timothy P. Jackson, a 27-year veteran, was removed from the still smoldering building Sunday morning. Firefighters stood and saluted as Jackson, 51, was carried down a ladder. Some made the sign of the cross. Others covered their hearts with their helmets.

The loss of the six men were believed to be the nation's highest death toll involving firefighters since 1994, when 14 firefighters perished in a forest fire in Colorado.

In the same spirit as the men who gave their lives trying to save others, firefighters refused to halt the search for their fallen comrades and for answers to what sparked the blaze.

Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said that while the cause of the fire has not been determined, it has been deemed suspicious.

At the scene of the crumbling warehouse, firefighters said Jackson was one of four men who died trying to rescue two firefighters who became disoriented amid thick smoke in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. building while searching for homeless people they believed to be inside.

Still buried inside the rubble were Spencer, 42; James F. Lyons III, 34; Joseph T. McGuirk, 38; Paul A. Brotherton, 41; and Jeremiah M. Lucey, 38.

Lyons had been rushing to fires since the time, as a young boy, he got a scanner to monitor fire and police radio transmissions, his father, James F. Lyons Jr., said between sobs.

``He was a hero on the day he was born, but today he's a martyr,'' the elder Lyons said. ``He went into this fire to save people, what he wanted to do.''

McGuirk was a third generation firefighter whose family has chalked up more than 200 years of service. A father of two, McGuirk was a carpenter until he became a firefighter three years ago.

Lucey loved camping, riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle and watching the stars with his sons, John Patrick, 8, and Jeremiah Michael, 11.

``My husband used to love to take them out on our patio and look for the Big Dipper, laying on a lawn chair, with one on each arm,'' said Lucey's wife, Michelle.

The family of Brotherton, a father to six boys under age 14, took solace in the words of a firemen's prayer hanging in his bedroom: ``When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage, give me strength to save some life. And if according to your will I have to lose my life, please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife.''

In sermons delivered at churches around the city, the six were remembered for their bravery.

``Lying at the base of their work is a dedication that all life is precious,'' the Rev. Rocco Piccolomini said at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. ``They are heroes every day.''