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BFD: Sprinklers didn't come on in fire-ravaged Ashmont building

Foam on Dorchester Avenue from Treadmark fire

Foam coated Dot. Ave - and helped dampen stubborn fire. Photo by BFD.

BFD Commissioner Joseph Finn said this morning that a key part of the investigation into the multi-alarm fire that heavily damaged a residential building nearing completion is whether the sprinkler system failed or wasn't turned on.

The lack of water in the first few minutes of the fire was "a major contributing factor" to its spread, Finn said at a press conference outside the Treadmark Building, 1971-1977 Dorchester Ave., where firefighters this morning are continuing to look for "hot spots" that could flare up.

Finn said the roof began buckling within nine minutes of firefighters arriving at 2:30 p.m. and that they were ordered off the roof. The fire burned throughout the night and into today.

City inspectors had been scheduled to tour the building today to ensure all the "life safety" systems, including sprinklers, were operating properly, Finn and ISD Commissioner William Finn said.

The "void" space between the roof, where the fire apparently started, and the top floor, had sprinklers installed in it that could have reduced the fire impact, had they operated, Finn said.

He said he is hopeful that Dot Ave. can be reopened to traffic by the evening rush hour.

Finn said the building's type of construction - several stories of wood framing above a concrete "podium" - is "relatively safe," and that it is very safe once all the safety systems are turned on. In addition to the sprinkler system, the use of thicker wooden structures than in single-family homes aids in their ability to fend off fires, he said.

Finn continued that the fire grew more complicated to fight when the roof collapsed, sending heavy mechanical equipment to the floor below, making it harder for streams of water to get onto the flames. The department eventually showered the top of the building with foam, which he said proved excellent at dampening the fire.

Mayor Marty Walsh said that the city is setting up an office to help people - some coming from out of state - who had been planning to move into one of the 83 condos and apartments in the building starting next month.

Finn said the building today did not appear in any danger of collapse. He and Christopher said that it will be up to the developer, Trinity Financial, to determine whether it can rebuild the existing structure or will have to tear it down and start again after building inspectors can get in for a more detailed look.

Note: The press conference was livestreamed by WHDH, where we watched it.

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Comments

So had the sprinklers been working the fire would have been contained far sooner. Even after burning all night without the sprinklers the building is still standing. No one got hurt. This is a win for modern building regulations even if the outcome is sucky for those involved.

Compare this to the recent London fire where the residents didn't have a chance.

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London's Greenfell tower was fully occupied and 24 floors, while Dot's Treadmark was not occupied at all and is less than 10 floors... so I'm not quite sure the comparison is as valid as your are assuming. Lightweight construction in tall buildings is dangerous: the fire chief addressed this in his remarks about the Treadmark fire. Are you qualified to disagree with him? If so, please state your credentials.

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Finn said the building's type of construction - several stories of wood framing above a concrete "podium" - is "relatively safe," and that it is very safe once all the safety systems are turned on. In addition to the sprinkler system, the use of thicker wooden structures than in single-family homes aids in their ability to fend off fires, he said.

Finn is saying there isn't a major concern with the construction. The point of safety regulations is to give people time to leave the building in case of a fire. By his publish accounts, that would have been true for this building once the various systems were turned on.

The building would have been safe (which isn't the same as fireproof) once people were cleared to moved in.

The London tower, in contrast, was not safe as people didn't have a chance to safely leave. They used materials that wouldn't have met code in Boston. This building was being constructed to stricter codes. That's the difference.

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Last night Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn did say:

"It was a very difficult fire to fight," Finn said. "It's lightweight construction, which makes it very dangerous for us, which means the components are smaller. (The components) are 2x4, which is what you would see in your own residential home versus a major development like this."

"Steel is usually the first five or six stories," Finn said. "This is basically, under the building code, you can build one story of steel or concrete and you can raise up four stories of wooden construction. In the size and scope of this building, it's nothing but a tinderbox." Finn added that they were fortunate the fire started on top, instead of below and traveled like it did.

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With sprinklers and often overlooked in this conversation drywall installed the building would not be a tinderbox.

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Treadmark was 6 alarms. Within 9 minutes of arriving, BFD was ordered off the roof, because is was structurally unsound. Heavy HVAC units were crashing through the roof to the floor below. Apparently lightweight construction doesn't hold up well in fires. The lack of structural integrity kept the fire dept. from attacking the fire swiftly. It burned for more than 12 hours. In the morning of the second day, NBC Boston interviewed a fireman who called the building a tinderbox given the construction type and size.

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Was a train wreck. There are plenty more like it in London. It was built in the seventies so should be 'modern' and 'safe'.
So what went wrong? There was a foot of styrofoam insulation on the outside to make it more 'energy efficient'. Look at the pictures of the burn. It caused the fire to cover the building, shattering windows and spreading floor to floor. They were doomed.
I have read about the lack of fire rated stairwells and doors. Was that up to code?

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Same thing happened in Chestnut Hill in 2000. A building in that case was renovated and the sprinklers were to be inspected the day after the fire...

http://www.upi.com/Archives/2000/02/09/Fire-breaks-out-in-Boston-suburb/...

http://www.wickedlocal.com/x644566300/Newtons-Route-9-fire-remembered-10...

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Disconcerting that, per the Boston Fire Department, several air conditioning units on the roof fell through top floor units' ceilings a mere 9 minutes after the BFD arrived on scene. That would have been deadly if people were already living in those units. I'm surprised the city of Boston is now allowing such shoddy construction codes for new buildings. Thankfully the building was still a week away from having people move in, otherwise they may have perished by fire, smoke inhalation or roof collapse. Where is Mayor Walsh on the issue of relaxed building codes for new construction? Hopefully reporters and Boston citizena will hold him to task on this. People deserve better than this.

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Despite appearing the fool, Mayor Menino was genius in packing every department with "spokesmen and spokeswomen" who were once employed by the local media. Even Parks and Recreation got a former WBZ reporter. Hence, the "scandal free" obituary. Don't hold your breath on any reporter asking questions, they will merely parrot the press release from BFD. The real question is why BFD couldn't extinguish a fire in a six story building for 24 hours. What happens in a high-rise downtown?

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Wow, what a stretch!

I know people love to use anything that happens to blame the politician they dislike. ("It's Obama's fault!") But in this case, Marty is about as much to blame for this as he is for some kid being bit by a stray dog in the park.

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The real question is why BFD couldn't extinguish a fire in a six story building for 24 hours.

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They contain it.

This ain't Star Trek, and we don't have unlimited resources because people, ahem, like bitching about their taxes every chance they get.

If a building downtown goes up in flames, it'll mostly be a rescue and containment operation depending on how severe the fire is. There's no magic to putting out a 1000 foot torch.

In this instance it sounds like the lack of suppression devices and possibly even firewalls / finishing not in place allowed the fire to snake from unit to unit quickly. In that case, containment is pretty much the only option untill enough heat can be pulled out start putting down the fire.

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The point of codes is to alert people of a fire and give them time to leave safely. According to the BFD, both things would have been true once the system been enabled. The building would have been safe once it passed final inspection according to BFD.

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By allowing upper level framing of new residential buildings to be built of pressed wood instead of steel and concrete which till recently was the standard. If a building is on fire, floors will more easily collapse if they are made of wood as opposed to concrete and steel framing. Many are reporting on this. If you're interested, do a little investigation.

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You're forgetting about the equalizing presence of sprinklers. Hence the question of why they didn't work in this case.

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It was initially reported that the sprinkler system was due to be inspected the day following the fire and hence had not yet been turned on.

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And drywall, a very effective fire stop. Sprinklers likely had not yet been given the greenlight to be on.

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Steel gets bendy and weak when it gets hot, which leads to collapse. Timber gets charred, but it keeps its strength much longer. Something stick-built like this will go pretty fast, but large timbers, even using engineered mass timber, takes a really long time. Fire doesn't move past the initial char layer easily. This is actually a method of fireproofing - they will char the outside of the wood purposely to protect the core.

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Describe the worst building that can legally be built. A "to code" building is the bare minimum and people should be demanding better.

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The codes are structural and safety requirements to keep people and cities safe. This building didn't meet code because it was still under construction.

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A "to code" building is the bare minimum and people should be demanding better.

New building materials are causing problems for firefighters and residents alike in single family homes too. In fact, they're causing the same problem-- fires burn for extremely short periods before structural integrity is compromised. Firefighters need to be proximate to fires to fight them. They can't when roofs or floors are bucking due to fire damage. It also cuts short the time residents have to get out safely.

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I do. I work in construction.

Any building inspector will tell you the same. Codes define the minimum that has been agreed upon. They don't say you can't do better. And wood construction for multi family resi has to suck for the occupants. Sure, you can build wood to be soundproof I haven't seen anything that robust going up recently.

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What you believe to be substandard isn't necessarily so. Codes are based on facts and experience, not "someone oughtta do it THIS way" internet comments.

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Is still a good building. That's like saying that Hanley Ramirez is the bare minimum of what a major league baseball player should be. Sure, his MLB numbers are bad, but he'd tear up the Park League if that's where he played, because the standard for being a major league baseball player is a lot more stringent than the standard for being an amateur player in a city league.

The code is there to ensure safe buildings. That's the minimum. That's what the code is there for. The worst building is a building not built to code, or built to a code that does not ensure safety (cough, cough, England, cough, cough.) The Massachusetts Building Code is a good code.

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IMAGE(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DDcJ39dWAAEXx3P.jpg)

Not a wood frame building
Similar size, if not larger
Occupied (including a dear friend of mine's apartment of thirty plus years)
FIVE ALARMS http://gothamist.com/2017/06/29/greenwich_village_...

This fire in a masonry and steel building became a major fire because it spread quickly - and it spread quickly because there was a shaft that pulled the fire up from the deli where it started into the "cockloft" aka attic of the building.

It doesn't matter that the building was more conventional construction - what mattered was that there was a path for that fire to travel and a wide open area for it to spread.

Quite frankly, that seems to be a critical piece for a big fire versus a little fire - speed of spread, which is often governed by wide open pathways. The underlying structural materials have little to do with that.

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Two thing you fail.to take into account.
1. 9 minutes after fire department arrived isn't the same as 9 minutes after fire started. Nobody knows how long the fire was going before units arrived.

2. Fire suppression systems apparently weren't turned on or functioning properly. Had they been working major fire damage would have been averted or at least delayed.

Just my non-fireman but still observant 2¢

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Is when the roof began buckling and firefighters were ordered off. Nothing about how long it took before the roof actually buckled and the rooftop mechanicals fell to the ground. In any case, assuming that it took at least 6 minutes for BFD to respond once the initial call went out, had the building been occupied, there would have been at least 15 minutes for people to escape before the roof began to buckle. And two staircases (Grenfell had one).

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I wasn't there when the fire started but engine 18 is about 500 feet away.

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We don't know how long the fire had been burning when BFD got the call. Dry kindling, a hot day, and plenty of open air like that in unfinished construction can go up quickly.

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Building codes in MA are set at the state level. The city inspector has responsibility for enforcement, but the code he is enforcing has been handed down from a state board. Walsh can't change the building code in his city to be less restrictive than the state code.

Also, the state board that sets the code includes representation from state fire officials who have a vote on how the code is written.

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Sprinklers?
Not working on 81.
Why not?
I don't know.

from The Towering Inferno

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We know why the sprinklers weren't turned on - the building was still under construction.

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BFD Commissioner Joseph Finn said this morning that a key part of the investigation into the multi-alarm fire that heavily damaged a residential building nearing completion is whether the sprinkler system failed or wasn't turned on(emphasis added).

Hence my Towering Inferno reference.

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Fire experts say that timber-frame buildings are just as safe as steel or concrete ones when finished, with their non-combustible cladding and sprinkler systems all in place. But it is while they are under construction that they are at their most vulnerable—to arsonists as well as accidents.

Here is the article from that quote...
http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21636929-preventing...

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I look forward to finding out what actually caused the fire.

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Interesting overhead viewpoint on NECN shows early video of the roof on fire. Through the smoke you can see a green cart with 4 wheels near the air conditioning unit. Tool Cart? Were workers in that area when the fire started?

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How can I get a hold of the report? I have been searching for it online but can't find it.

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