Tokyo FD. Mini ladder truckNot that I'm superstitious -- even though 25 years ago my Amherst apartment burned down on a Friday the 13th -- but my intuition radar probably should have been buzzing after checking in to our plush hotel room a couple hours earlier: Room 911.
Even with the restart of UMass and our other institutes of higher education, considering Monday was a holiday, I figured it would be a slow news week in Amherst. Guess I was wrong.
So you simply hope to never meet again. Ever.
The beast paid a call on Rolling Green Apartments early Monday morning. As with all encounters, it was both uninvited and unexpected.
Rolling Green fire. Photo courtesy of Steven O'Toole
And a young man who was majoring in hospitality and tourism management at UMass will never get to put those service skills to use. Ever.
The investigation will be as thorough as the fire was destructive, maybe more so. I will be surprised if it turns out the cause can be traced to irresponsible management, as the complex is owned by one of those big corporations with too much to lose.
With Section 8 housing, HUD loans, a large insurance carrier and all the other private sector bureaucracy involved, safe to say Rolling Green Apartments have been inspected more times than the Town could possibly afford to if rental registration bylaw passes town meeting this spring.
The problem in Amherst with substandard, dangerous rental housing comes not from large professionally managed complexes like Rolling Green, Puffton Village, Mill Valley Estates, or any of the other three complexes on East Hadley Road. It's largely the lone houses transformed into (illegal) rooming houses that are accidents waiting to happen.
Except of course for Gilreath Manor, the 14 unit complex out on Hobart Lane, a sort of white crow that disproves the theory all multi-unit complexes are well run. A very good reason why all responsible landlords in town should cheer public officials' new found ambition to actually enforce safety and zoning ordinances that have been too long ignored.
With the same basic design as the Rolling Green complex (with an attic unprotected by fireproof flooring) but made far more dangerous with faulty fire detection and too many students packed into each unit, the Gilreath Manor fire could have been far more murderous had the blaze broken out in the early morning hours rather than high noon.
Town Manager Musante's proposed 2014 budget fortunately includes funding for a "full time fire prevention inspector position;" but, unfortunately, no added positions for front line responders like those brave men and women who descended on a killer conflagration early Monday morning.
The Town Manager also touts the weekend "joint patrols" between UMPD and APD which is of course a good thing. But AFD can't very well partner with UMFD as UMass does not have a fire department.
As I've mentioned before, UMass needs to hire an off campus RA to deal with nuisance party houses before they require APD response, and they should pick up the tab for an additional two AFD first responder positions.
The beast will come calling again. Because fire is never completely eradicated. Ever.
Fire victim relief efforts for Rolling Green
Relief efforts for Peshkov family