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Cote, Ron and Timoney, Tom. Boarding House Fire Causes Fifteen Deaths. Fire Journal. January 1985. pp. 44-54.

Abstract: This article reports a tragedy that occurred in Beverly, Massachusetts. A boarding house was intentionally set on fire and fifteen lives were taken as a result. The article provides full details of the structure including the dimensions and floor plans and where the smoke detectors were located. Investigators concluded that lives may have been saved if the proper building codes were in place.

Investigators found no traces of accelerant. They determined the fire was set in the entrance alcove of the building. The fire spread via the combustible materials contained in the walls. The smoke detectors worked properly, however they were ineffective. The fire began outside the building entrance and by the time it reached the hallways and set off the smoke detectors, the fire was in full blast, giving tenants a short amount of time to respond to the alarm.

The building was constructed in 1900 and was not subject to new building code requirements. Its stairways were not enclosed allowing the fire to spread rapidly. The smoke alarm system did not notify the fire department that it sounded. The fire department was notified twenty minutes after the alarm activated. The combustibility of the materials the building was constructed of did not comply with the newer standards of building construction. There was also no sprinkler system installed in this building. In this instance, a sprinkler system would have saved lives, however, the building codes did not require this structure to have one. The unenclosed stairway, the combustibility of materials, the delayed fire department response, and the lack of a sprinkler system were the main factors that contributed to the loss of life caused by this fire.

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Fire Journal is now NFPA Journal and published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
Call the NFPA Library at (617) 984-7445 or e-mail

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