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Gas disaster recovery is top priority for former Swampscott town administrator

NORTH ANDOVER — Andrew W. Maylor traded a job in Swampscott for one in North Andover in 2011 and, last Thursday, traded the relative anonymity of small town government to stand by Gov. Charlie Baker in the glare of television camera lights.

Maylor is town manager in one of three communities hit hard by the natural gas explosions and resulting fires that killed a Lawrence teenager and continue to leave 1,500 North Andover residents without gas in their homes.

“Those folks are in a holding pattern and 80 percent to 100 percent of our time for the next few weeks will be spent on helping them,” Maylor said.

Maylor’s first inkling of last Thursday’s gas disaster that also struck Lawrence and Andover came as he walked past a North Andover mall and heard an alarm sounding but no sirens indicating public safety workers were responding.

“Right away, it didn’t feel right,” he said.

Little did he know at the time but all available town fire crews aided by police officers were rushing to multiple reports of explosions and fires in North Andover. Town Police Chief Charles Gray pulled over just long enough to tell Maylor he was receiving reports of multiple fires.

When Gray circled past him again, Maylor jumped into the chief’s car, grabbed a police scanner in one hand and his phone in the other and the pair drove from one fire to another, assessing damage. First impressions prompted Maylor to fear the worst.

“It really felt like terrorism with multiple responses,” he said.

With the odor of natural gas hanging heavy over town streets, Mayor and Gray fielded calls, heard evacuation orders sent by authorities in neighboring communities, and received initial reports tying the fires to a major natural gas supply system failure.

North Andover’s damage was centered between the town’s Massachusetts Avenue, Main Street and I-495. The degree of damage ranged from a fire small enough to be extinguished by a local resident to homes destroyed by fire.

All told, local and regional firefighters extinguished 31 fires in North Andover. Maylor, who served as Swampscott town administrator from 2002 to 2011, briefed the media throughout last Thursday evening into last Friday, pausing only briefly on Friday morning to take a breath and briefly rest.

By way of contrast, Maylor said North Andover has about six fires in an average year.

Electricity shut off to 2,000 people as a precaution was restored last Sunday morning. Of the 3,300 town residents who lost gas supplies last week, 1,517 in the neighborhoods struck by the explosions remain without supplies.

Maylor said plans to restore their gas could take “weeks, even months” to unfold with implementation at the local level his top priority. Taking a new job seven years ago in a town twice the size of Swampscott presented Maylor with challenges that were made easier by the on-the-job education he received working in Swampscott.

As the town’s first administrator, he studied town department procedures and helped introduce changes and updated efficiency standards.

“I learned a lot about town departments and it has served me well in a bigger town,” he said.

 

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