Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Branded: A Public Slander

Edited to protect the innocent

About the only thing worse than losing all your possessions in a structure fire (besides your life of course) is to later have a lawyer publicly brand you as the culprit who caused the conflagration.

As another lawyer so famously asked of a bully on network TV, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"

According to the Amherst Fire Department the cause of the 9/13/12 blaze at #28 Hobart Lane was "accidental" and "undetermined".

But according to Attorney Farber, hired gun for property owner Grandonico Properties, LLC, the blaze was caused by an occupant of a (illegal) basement bedroom. 

Oddly, he puts forth a scenario that is remarkably close to an another fire that occurred in South Amherst over a year before due to the Halloween Snowmageddon storm.  A young lady was drying her hair when the power went out, so she dropped the hairdryer on the bed and a few days later when the power finally returned, puff.

The fire department report clearly traces the fire origin to a bedside table, not the bed itself. Miss X also reports she does not own a "curling iron."

Yes the Hobart Lane basement area had one smoke detector but it was too badly damaged in the fire to determine if it was in proper working order.  Either way, with a basement illegally subdivided into two bedrooms, three smoke detectors are required and they need to be hardwired rather than battery operated.

Plus the entire basement area has only one window as a second means of egress, so the person with the bedroom that did not have a window could easily be trapped and turned into toast.

#28 Hobart Lane:  One basement window, two bedrooms

The other vital safety equipment missing that day was a carbon monoxide detector.  Attorney Farber even admits there were none, and that the Gilreath Manor complex uses gas water heaters located in -- you guessed it -- the basement.

In fact, a safety inspection immediately after the fire discovered one of the water heaters was not operating properly because it was covered by a blanket, a potential two-way death sentence by carbon monoxide poisoning, or a gas explosion.

Attorney Farber also admitted Miss X had concerns over unlabeled fire extinguishers.  Since there were no labels on them she would not have known they only contained water and therefore, should NOT be used on an electrical fire, which would have only made things worse.

Miss X also confirms she never tested any smoke detectors in the basement, only on the first floor, as she was unaware there was even one there.  The fire department inspector found one on the second floor was not working on the day of the fire and issued the Grandonicos a $100 fine.

ZBA Chair Eric Beal (also an attorney) was obviously upset by the written testimony put before his board, and he spent a fair amount of time "reading it into the public record".

Just as obvious on display -- via attorney Farber -- was the Grandonicos wish to place blame anywhere but where it belongs: on them.

As a result, a hard working young woman who -- through no fault of her own -- suffered the trauma of losing possessions to fire, gets thrown under a burning bus.

To quote that iconic theme song of the 60s, "What do you do when you're branded, will you fight for your name?"


Dr. Ed said...

Larry, there not only has to be a window but it -- simple version of code -- has to be big enough for a firefighter wearing turnout coat and air tank to fit through. Not the skinny girl who was a champion gymnast and can fit into places the guys can't, but the *average* firefighter.

There are a bunch of measurements that I forget but that window looks way too small and way too high off the basement floor to count as an "escape window."

There are also rules about the number of square feet of window space (i.e. glass) relative to square feet of floor space and most basement bedrooms don't meet that. Or the openable window square footage rule.

One would have to actually measure it, one can't be sure from the picture, but it really looks like, umm....

And Attorney Farber really ought to read the BBO rules on what lawyers are allowed to say on behalf of his client because there are rules on what lawyers can and can not say....

Just saying....

Anonymous said...

Amherst needs to seriously grow a spine. The solutions to many of these problems are so simple it's stupid, and I'm not talking about going at it in a hard nosed approach. This town has so many people in power that have no power it's ridiculous. Case example I love the part where they debate back and for about the (3) beds in the basement like there's just no solution to that problem. Hang on to your britches Amherst because as soon as what little business you've allowed to struggle here is gone downtown will be one big dormitory. Full of Pizza, Beer, and Slumlords!

Anonymous said...

tI know it's a crazy idea, but what if Amherst actually enforced its housing rules? Fine landlords or padlock properties that are in violation.

Or will the town simply pass more useless laws that they will then ignore?

Larry Kelley said...

I town officials are serious this time around (after all these years).

Larry Kelley said...

Meant to say "think". Yes, a bit of a waffle word.

Anonymous said...

The town of Amherst needs to move to a Mayor and a Town Council the town is to big for all of these select boards. It is time to move to modern times.

Anonymous said...

And when are we going to get the details of the Rolling Green fire -- particularly as to why the student was not able to escape.

Tennis instructor said...

Very sad situation! It's too bad it takes terrible situations like this to elicit positive change.

Anonymous said...

The Rolling Green fire victim did escape safely...and then he went back in and was not able to get out alive a second time.

Larry Kelley said...

I have tried to confirm that with my ultra-reliable sources and they will neither confirm or (interestingly enough) deny that sad scenario.

Will that make it into the state Fire Marshal's report if indeed it is true?

Anonymous said...

Larry, I read that he came out and then went back in on the Gazette. Perhaps the Gazette got it wrong?

Larry Kelley said...

No that was not in the Gazette or Republican or Collegian.