It’s too early to know whether fire doors or other passive fire protection measures played any role in the fire last week in a Lowell, Massachusetts apartment building where 7 residents were killed.  Regardless, this fire underscores the value of passive fire protection, because many apartment buildings do not have active fire suppression systems – sprinklers.

This article gives a lot of insight into a situation like this one, from the firefighters’ perspective:

Firefighters made plunge into ever-growing danger – Boston Globe

At that same moment, Ladder 2 was directly in front of the burning building. Firefighter Mike Maguire swung the aerial tower to the third floor and landed it perfectly, like a dart, right at the window in the right corner where a family of five was trapped.

Firefighter Ryan Carroll, nine years on the job, ran up the 35-foot ladder, and when he got in front of the window he felt a lump hit him in the chest. It was a little girl.

“She jumped out of the window, right onto me,” Carroll said. “With the smoke, I couldn’t see anything. She just landed on me, and I grabbed hold. She might have been 5 or 6. I peeled her off and put her right behind me and said, ‘Don’t move!’ I reached in the window and grabbed a little boy. He was probably about 3. I put him in back of me, too, but I was worried about him falling through the rungs because he was so small. I told his sister to bring him down, and she did. She was great. She was awesome.”

Carroll reached into the black again and pulled out another girl, maybe 10 years old. He told her to climb down because he had to get her parents.


There is more background on this fire here:

In Lowell, search for answers begins after fatal fire – Boston Globe

Stephen Coan, the state’s fire marshal, said investigators were trying to determine whether the smoke alarms were working. Investigators were also reviewing city records to determine if the nine-unit building was in compliance with fire codes.

As residents in the predominately Cambodian neighborhood looked on, investigators sifted through the wreckage of the top two floors, pulling out charred items in search of clues.

“The important thing is to find out the cause of the fire and whether the building was up to code,” Coan said.

The building was last inspected in March 2013 and had working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at the time, city officials said.

“All of these units received their rental permits,” said R. Eric Slagle, the city’s director of development services. Slagle said the property did not have a history of violations. The building was not required to have sprinklers because of its age.


Horrified Lowell residents had little time, few options – Boston Globe

Inside, residents who had not made it out in the first wave found themselves trapped by flames in the hallway. Sar Soth, 43, was in her third-floor apartment with two young children, their mother and another man, when she heard a boom, saw the flames, woke everyone up and realized the front door was hot. When the man tried to open it, flames burned his face.

“I open a window, we are screaming!” Soth recounted, shaking and weeping. “We couldn’t get out… We almost died in there.”

Soth said they watched the roof cave in. By the time firefighters reached them, the family could not see because of the smoke. At the bottom of the ladder, Soth fell, dizzy and unable to breathe.

Residents watching from the ground were horrified as flames engulfed their building. Khamsan Ou, safe outside with his girlfriend and their four children, watched shadows fall from the windows. He knew instantly that the shadows were people.

Lowell Fire

Photo: David L Ryan, Boston Globe

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