News, Police/Fire

Lynn building marked as extreme hazard by fire department

Lynn Fire Lt. Israel Gonzalez, head of the Fire Prevention unit, and Fire Inspector Joel Machado stand at 80 Almont St., a building considered dangerous for entry during a fire. (Jim Wilson)

LYNN — When X marks the spot in Lynn, it won’t reveal hidden treasure, but rather mark dilapidated buildings deemed an extremely hazardous structure and serve as a warning for the fire department to keep out during a potential blaze.

Last week, the Lynn Fire Prevention Bureau marked a giant red X on 80 Almont St., a vacant building at the corner of Oxford and Almont streets. The mark was made after the city’s building and fire departments went inside and deemed the building unsafe, according to Lynn Fire Lt. Israel Gonzalez, head of the Fire Prevention unit.

“It’s been falling apart for awhile,” said Gonzalez. “I don’t believe the owner has done anything to fix the building in many years.”

Studio Realty Trust, owned by Jon and Bonnie Rotenberg, purchased the building in 1985 for $97,500, according to land records.

When reached by phone, Jon Rotenberg said he had no idea there was an X placed on his building. He had not been informed by the fire department and was planning to call on Wednesday after being contacted by The Item.

“If there’s anything wrong, we go and get it fixed,” Rotenberg said. “I have a property manager. We follow through with everything. I had an engineer saying everything was all right.”

The building joins several other structures in the city that bear the X, which lets firefighters know a potential fire there should be attacked from the outside of the building only, according to Gonzalez.

The building holds a significant place in Lynn Fire history. It was the only wood-framed building downtown to survive the Great Lynn Fire of 1889.

Although land records show the three-story warehouse style structure was built about 1900, it was actually constructed a few years before the fire, which broke out at Oxford and Almont, wiping out hundreds of businesses all the way to the Lynn Harbor, according to a Lynn Fire Department Facebook post.

An 1889 archived New York Times article estimated the total damage from the Nov. 26 fire at $5 million.

The decision to place an X on the building comes three years after former Fire Chief James McDonald called 80 Almont St. a “target hazard” and city inspectors ordered Studio Realty Trust to repair the building’s walls or face a $1,000-a-day fine after an inspection found conditions that “present a danger to life and limb.”

It was unclear whether any fines had been placed on the property since that time. City building department employees referred The Item to Roger Ennis, chief building inspector, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.

“We believe the structure is unsafe,” Gonzalez said. “In case of conditions, in case of a fire, we’re afraid the walls will collapse and that’s why we don’t want any firefighters going inside the building.”

But if someone were inside, he said, the commanding officer on scene would make the difficult determination of whether to send firefighters in to make the rescue.

Gonzalez said one of the main issues is with the building’s interior sprinkler system, which breaks anytime it gets cold, with a lot of water being poured into the structure. There’s a lot of water damage throughout and the whole building is structurally unsound.

A letter from the building owner’s structural engineer, Sami E. Kassis, president of Design by Sami, to the building’s property manager Charles Malafaia, president of International Builders, reads that the existing condition of the building is fair to bad with numerous structural deficiencies due to the age of the structure and settlements over the years.

The main concern is the foundation wall along Almont Street, with another being the masonry addition separating from the original structure, according to the letter.

“The risk is some people might break into these buildings because they know they’re empty and they don’t understand why the X is on the building,” Gonzalez said. “It puts the fire department in a very difficult situation because we have to try to go in and save them.”

The idea to label dilapidated buildings with an X followed the 1999 Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire, where six firefighters died.

The deaths raised awareness of the dangers of abandoned buildings and led to increased inspections, stricter adherence to building and fire codes, changes in firefighting strategy with regards to those structures, and the development of a state code to keep first responders safe, State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey told The Item in a previous interview.

Last spring, eight properties in the city had been marked with an X, but the fire department and building department said an updated list was not available on Tuesday.

 

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