At 12:30 AM on Monday, Ocotober 3th, a fire was reported at 5A Langsford St here in Lanesville. The Bay View station was closed because one of the firemen who was assigned to the station went home sick earlier in the day. A truck dispatched from the Central station required over 11 minutes to arrive at the scene (Gloucester police were already on the scene but couldn't enter the building because of the heat and smoke). Bridget Clary died of smoke inhailation on the way to Addison Gilbert Hospital.
The city of Gloucester has been going through a turbulent period recently. A fiscal crisis has forced the downsizing of the Gloucester Fire Department to the point that two of the four fire stations are open on a part time basis. Bay View Station services Lanesville, providing response times on the order of minutes. If a truck is dispatched from the Central Station, it takes more like 11-12 minutes. A month ago, a fire was reported in a house on Leverett Street. The Bay View station was closed and the firemen on duty at the Central Station were in West Gloucester at a training seminar. The time to respond was over 11 minutes. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the building sustained substantial damage.
A Proposition 2 1/2 override for additional fire department funding was rejected two years ago by the voters of Gloucester.
Articles from The Gloucester Daily Times:Fire kills woman living minutes from closed station/Death renews controversy over department's staffing policiesBy Douglas A. Moser
Gloucester Daily Times
Published: October 03, 2006 12:00 am
The death of a 42-year-old woman in a Lanesville fire Sunday night, hours after the Bay View substation was closed when a firefighter went home ill, was called "unacceptable" yesterday by city residents and officials fighting to keep all Gloucester's fire stations open.
Bridget Clary, of 5A Langsford St., died after smoke and heat filled her two-story rented home around 11:30 p.m. Sunday. A neighbor called 911 at 11:37 p.m., and firefighters arrived at 11:48, 11 minutes later from Central Station.
Fire Capt. Thomas LoGrande and Deputy fire Chief Philip Dench estimated an engine from the Bay View station would have arrived in three minutes.
Russell Hobbs, a Lanesville resident and member of Citizens for Public Safety, a group that advocates for staffing the fire stations, called the tragedy "unacceptable," saying the city has a public safety obligation to keep the Bay View and Magnolia substations open.
"The city has to wake up, smarten up," he said yesterday. "They're putting our lives at risk. We've had it."
Hobbs said he planned on attending tonight's City Council meeting, along with his group, to speak about the fire. "I don't know what I'm going to say, but I have to be careful because I'm angry," he said.
Ward 5 Councilor Walter Peckham said he agreed the city has not lived up to its obligation to public safety. "If it was my decision, and if I had the power, they'd be open," he said.
The Lanesville fire was the fourth since November within a few minutes of a closed substation.
"She paid the price for the stations being closed," said Jamie O'Hara, president of Citizens for Public Safety. "Would she have survived? Who knows, but she never had a chance."
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said yesterday afternoon that the cause of Clary's death remains under investigation, though he does not suspect arson.
"There's nothing to lead the investigation team to believe that it's suspicious in nature," he said.
Firefighters were on scene for more than three hours investigating, said LoGrande, who responded to the call. All available units from both Central Station and West Gloucester responded to the single-alarm blaze.
"There wasn't a lot of damage," LoGrande said. "There wasn't any fire showing on arrival. All we saw was smoke."
Police arrived at the house a minute before firefighters, LoGrande said. Firefighters saw Patrolmen Mark Foote and Joseph Fitzgerald outside the building when they arrived. Foote said they had gone into the dwelling, saw Clary upstairs, but were forced out by the heat and smoke.
The home is owned by Ronald and Judith Lane of Medway, officials said. The Lanes could not be reached for comment.
LoGrande said the fire was contained to the first floor near a couch and a stacked washer-dryer unit. Heat and smoke filled the home, though the fire was "smoldering" when firefighters got inside, he said.
"I thought the fire was upstairs" because of the heat and smoke, LoGrande said.
The Rescue Squad took Clary to Addison Gilbert Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Fire officials said her heart stopped en route to the hospital.
LoGrande and Coan said Clary had a smoke alarm outside her bedroom, but it did not contain a battery.
Albert Leland, a carpenter who lives in the adjacent home at 5 Langsford St., said he returned home abut 11:30 p.m. "and smelled smoke." Not seeing any sign of a fire, Leland said he went inside his home and took off his shoes.
"I saw smoke and put my shoes back on and called for help," he said. "I saw flames inside the windows, grabbed a hose, (and) it was going pretty good," Leland said. Leland said he was unable to get into the house to rescue Clary.
Jim Hafey, who lives around the corner from Clary on Andrews Street with his wife Heidi and four children, said he knew Clary "as neighbors, talking across the fence."
Clary's son, Derek Clary, attends college in Maine, officials said. Neighbors who recognize him said he had returned to his mother's home yesterday morning, though he could not be located for comment.
Fire Chief Barry McKay said the Bay View station began the 24-hour tour of duty open but was closed in the early afternoon when a firefighter went home sick. He declined to identify the firefighter. The departure dropped the number of firefighters on duty to 14, which, according to long-standing policy, meant closing Bay View, a situation McKay described as an "unfortunate coincidence."
Clary was the only person found in the house, LoGrande said. Derek Clary was in Maine at the time of the fire, officials said.
The Hafeys said they met Bridget Clary when they moved into their house five years ago because Clary and the Hafeys owned beagles.
Heidi Hafey said Clary's beagle has been gone for a while, though she said Clary's cat Fred roamed the backyard, meowing with a deep voice in a way that sometimes made her get out of bed.
"It sounds like he says, 'Mom,"' she said. "It made me get up because I think it's one of my kids."
Fred stood in Clary's backyard near a wire fence yesterday at noon, calling at the empty house.
Staff writer Richard Gaines contributed to this report.Illness, chief's policy triggered station's closingBy Richard Gaines
Gloucester Daily Times
When a firefighter went home ill about noon Sunday, it triggered a routine decision to close Bay View station at 12:44 p.m. - about 11 hours before a fire broke out two miles away in Lanesville, taking the life of Bridget Clary.
Clary, 42, lived at 5A Langsford St., just north of the village center.
Her cottage was about three minutes from Bay View station, which was shut under fire Chief Barry McKay's policy not to use money in the overtime budget just to keep the Bay View or Magnolia stations open.
With Bay View closed, it took 11 minutes for firetrucks and an ambulance to reach the fire from Central Station on School Street.
Clary went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance and was pronounced dead at Addison Gilbert Hospital, fire officials said.
Under the department policy - which is the subject of a pending grievance - the chief and his deputies use overtime to call in personnel only when the duty roster is low enough to force the closing of the third substation, in West Gloucester, as well as Bay View and Magnolia.
McKay said yesterday, as he has often said, "I won't operate without West Gloucester."
Fourteen firefighters answered Sunday's 7:30 a.m. roll call, just enough, according to the manning requirements in the union contract, to keep a team of two with a pumper in West Gloucester and another team of two with a pumper in Bay View, while staffing Central Station's two trucks and ambulance and keeping a dispatcher on duty.
The full roster for the Sunday tour - a 10-hour day shift and a 14-hour night shift - was 18, enough to keep both Magnolia and Bay View open. But two firefighters were on vacation and a third was off recovering from an injury, according to Deputy Philip Dench.
So when the ill firefighter left for home, the department found itself one body short of the 15 required to operate Bay View as well as West Gloucester.
A callback to keep two firefighters with the Bay View pumper would have cost about $375 in overtime, McKay estimated.
But it is not something the department has done since City Council two years ago, in the wake of a failed $1.1 million tax override, approved a budget that doomed nine firefighter positions. As a result, McKay announced the decision to keep Magnolia closed generally and Bay View whenever his reduced staff produced too few bodies on roster shifts.
McKay this year asked Mayor John Bell to request a budget increase to pay for 11 new firefighter positions, enough to keep Magnolia and Bay View open. But the budget was increased only enough to add two firefighters, not enough to keep all the stations open all the time.
McKay said his determination to use overtime judiciously has meant that Bay View has been closed about two-thirds of the time.
But the union has objected, citing language in the contract it approved last April that it interprets as requiring McKay to use the money in his budget until he has no more to support a duty roster of 17, enough to keep all stations open.
"Subject to funding," the contract requires that "there shall be no less than 17 employees on duty at the start of each shift."
As of last Friday, McKay had spent $79,229 in overtime, about 30 percent of the total in 25 percent of the fiscal year, leaving him $179,251 still available, according to figures provided by City Auditor Joseph Pratt.
"The council and the administration went through the (budgeting) process, allocating funds as best we could," said mayoral administrative assistant Steven Magoon. "Is it enough? I don't think anybody would consider it adequate."
Two councilors - Jackie Hardy, who represents Bay View and Lanesville, and Walter Peckham, representing Magnolia and West Gloucester - have urged McKay to spend what he has to keep the stations open, then come back to the council for more funding. But Council President James Destino has said that without a requested appropriation from the administration, the council is powerless.
Firefighters' union president Clinton Carroll said the union believes the department has an obligation to use available money to keep all the stations opened. The union's grievance against the policy of conserving overtime was heard last week by Personnel Director Donna Leete.
"That's the chief's policy," Carroll said, "and that's why a woman's dead today."
After the fire, he said a second grievance was likely against deployment decisions yesterday.
Carroll said there were 17 firefighters for the day's tour, enough to open Magnolia and Bay View, but McKay assigned one firefighter to take a truck to Ipswich for repairs and assigned a mechanic to remain with a new truck while representatives of the manufacturer were there to make adjustments and correct flaws.
The reduction of the available roster to 15 meant Bay View was open, but Magnolia was kept dark.
Article from The Boston Globe:A Gloucester death from blaze brings home budget-cut realities
Loss of fire station slowed responseBy Kay Lazar and Raja Mishra, Globe Staff | October 3, 2006
GLOUCESTER -- Gloucester firefighters took more than 11 minutes to reach a burning house late Sunday, only to find a 42-year-old woman dead inside, 1 mile from a fire station that had been closed recently because of budget cuts.
City officials said yesterday that the victim, Bridget Clary , an aspiring screenwriter, might have been saved if the city had not been forced to close two full-time fire stations after residents voted against a proposed tax increase.
Instead, fire crews stationed in downtown Gloucester had to drive more than 5 miles along slick, winding roads to the fire in the city's northernmost neighborhood. This resulted in a response time nearly double the 6-minute benchmark set by national fire authorities, officials said.
Gloucester police officers, who are not equipped for fires, arrived at the scene first, but intense heat and smoke stopped their rescue effort. Clary was found unresponsive in her bed, surrounded by a blanket of smoke, officials said.
Clary was pronounced dead shortly afterward. The cause of the fire was under investigation yesterday.
"The paramedic was frustrated because he believed if they had gotten her out earlier, she would have had a good chance to survive," said Captain Tom LoGrande of the Gloucester Fire Department.
The fiscal issues underscoring the tragedy have resonated in cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth, where residents weary of property taxes have been forced repeatedly to choose between higher taxes and reduced municipal services.
The issue has spilled into the gubernatorial race.
The Democratic nominee, Deval L. Patrick, says that irresponsible tax cutting by the state has caused a financial crisis in municipalities.
The Republican, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, argues that taxes have become overly burdensome.
The independent candidate for governor, Christy Mihos, says that municipal aid, after years of cuts, should be strongly increased.
In Gloucester, the mayor, John Bell, and some lawmakers discussed yesterday the possibility of putting another tax increase on the ballot to fully fund fire services.
Two of the city's four fire stations, including the one near Clary's home, were mostly unstaffed starting in July 2004 due to budget cuts.
Politics, however, seemed far from 20-year-old Derek Clary's mind yesterday as he stood in a daze in front of his mother's modest seaside house.
"It was just me and her growing up," he said. "She raised me by myself."
Clary said his mother had moved to Gloucester about seven years ago, and had worked at a chiropractor's office and a fruit juice company. She also wrote movie screenplays, recently sending an autobiographical work called ``A Mere Reflection" to Warner Brothers, he said.
Gloucester firefighters stationed at the downtown headquarters responded to a 911 call that came in at 11:37 p.m. Sunday, arriving at Bridget Clary's house in the northern Lanesville neighborhood 11 minutes and 27 seconds later, officials said. They had to drive 5.4 miles. The shuttered Bay View station was 1.2 miles from the scene.
"From Bay View to that scene would have been 3 to 4 minutes tops," LoGrande said in an interview.
In similar situations, firefighters were slow in responding to three fires last winter in a southeastern Gloucester neighborhood where the Magnolia fire station had been closed, including a blaze that gutted the home of a blind woman on the morning after Christmas.
A Globe analysis in 2005 found that Gloucester had the slowest response time among 19 full-time fire departments on the North Shore and northern suburbs.
Tamara Leland , who lives next door and called 911, said she saw smoke coming from Clary's house and ran over to help her. ``I used the shovel to break the window," she said, but heavy smoke forced her back.
As word of the tragedy spread, some Gloucester residents voiced outrage.
"It shouldn't have happened. What is it going to take for this city to wake up?" asked Russell Hobbs , who lives near Clary's house and who founded a group called Citizens for Public Safety, to advocate for public services. "The city can't hide now."
The decision to close the fire stations goes back to June 2004, when Gloucester voters rejected by a 4-to-1 ratio a proposal to override the state cap on property taxes, known as Proposition 2 1/2, which limits the annual increase in taxes and forces municipalities to seek voter approval for extra tax increases. The tax increase would have added $1.23 million to the city budget.
Without the money, firefighters, police, and other city workers were laid off, and the two fire stations were kept shuttered most of the time since the vote.
Bell , who sponsored the unsuccessful 2004 tax increase measure, voiced skepticism that a renewed tax increase effort would succeed.
``I'm sorry for the death. I feel very badly," he said. ``Citizens need to gather with government to look at an override specifically to keep the stations open . . . and to work with our state representatives to change the local aid formula."
Last year, 164 cities and towns in Massachusetts offered similar tax increase proposals; 87 were approved by voters.
Kay Lazar can be reached at email@example.com, and Raja Mishra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.