Safer Buildings

Deputy Chief Ayotte looks at a common public misconception

I could not attend the funeral of Lieutenant Ed Walsh because I had jury duty. On my way home after doing my civic duty, I stopped in at my local Starbucks to grab a Cafe Americano. Someone in the store was using Starbuck’s Wi-Fi connection and was watching the funeral service on their laptop.

There was also a couple of conversations going on about the funeral service that were of the utmost respect for the two Boston Brothers killed in the 9 alarm fire on beacon Street on March 26, 2014.

Another person who was with the guy watching the service made a statement to the effect of that kind of fire could not happen here in Marlborough, we have a lot of safe buildings.

Boston Brownstone Fire

I stood there waiting for the barista to finish making my caffeine fix (I do not function without caffeine) and had all I could do to hold my tongue. I then realized that there are probably a lot of people in my community who feel the same way.

We do not have brownstone buildings like they do in the Back Bay of Boston, but we do have older balloon frame residential structures in the center section of the city and the old mansions built by the Shoe Barons that have been converted to apartments. We have single story taxpayers and brick and mortar ordinary construction buildings on Main Street that are apartments over commercial occupancies. We have mobile home parks and class 5 wood framed residential structures and McMansions built of lightweight materials. We have Class 1 and Class 2 construction with a couple of Class 5 heavy timber buildings that have been converted or are in the state of being converted to apartments and condominiums, apartment and condo complexes and some buildings that are hybrids of multiple construction classes. We also have some critical infrastructure, such as water and sewer treatment plants, a propane distribution facility and a rail line going through the city.



Why does the public have this perception? We do have an active public fire education program, but you cannot force anyone to listen to the messages given. Perhaps we need to do a better job of informing our citizens and the politicians of the potential hazards we face in these safer buildings. We also have to do a better job of keeping our own people informed about new building construction (both commercial and residential), renovations and construction materials.

Fire alarm and sprinkler systems do contribute to safer buildings. But even a magazine full of high explosives is safe as long as there is no fire or other ignition source around.

Editor’s Note: The building that was destroyed in that six-alarm fire (above video) is being rebuilt with lightweight engineered wooden beams, zip board sheathing and other “engineered wood products”. This time, it will have full sprinkler and standpipe protection, and the other two buildings in the complex that were not affected by the fire have been retrofitted with standpipes and sprinklers.

Boston photos courtesy of FirefighterNation/Boston Herald, Christopher Evans/AP Scott Eisen

Marlborough photos courtesy of online real estate sites.


Ron Ayotte Ron Ayotte is one of four Deputy Fire Chiefs with the Marlborough Fire Department, Marlborough, Massachusetts. Ron began his career with the MFD in November of 1981, was promoted to Lieutenant in November of 1988, Promoted to Captain in August of 2000 and was promoted to Deputy Chief in 2006. Ron’s responsibilities at the MFD include incident command, communications, plans review, inspections and training. Ron also works per diem in the Support Services division at the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, working support for various Academy programs, including Recruit training, Call/Volunteer training, Certification and LNG-LPG firefighting training. Ron’s writings and musings can be seen at Chief Concerns.


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