Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Details

There was a bad fire Monday night, reported in today's Rep-Am. Since the fire happened just down the street from me, I'm very aware of the details. Reading the article in today's paper reminded me of just how unreliable a newspaper account can be. I'll start with reprinting the key portion of the article as it ran in the paper, then correct a few details and add a somewhat important angle that was left out.

City firefighters stop blaze from spreading

Row house residents displaced



BY LAURESHA XHIHANI


REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN


WATERBURY — Five peo­ple were displaced after a fire damaged their Wood Street home early Tuesday.

Deputy Fire Chief Rick Hart said the fire, reported at 12:30 a.m., started in the base­ment and spread to the first floor of a row house at 255 Wood St.

[Deleted for copyright reasons]

One man living in the base­ment got out on his own, be­fore firefighters arrived. Another person living in the first floor was not home at the time of the fire.

[Deleted for copyright reasons]

Okay, first of all, the fire was at 225 Wood Street, not 255 Wood Street. I find it interesting that the article states the fire was reported at 12:30 a.m., since the fire engines and police cars arrived at about 11:45 p.m. At 12:15 a.m., I was standing outside watching the firefighters put out the blaze. By 12:30 a.m., the fire was under control and almost completely extinguished.

It's also interesting to see the differences between rumors and official stories (this is getting away from the article). During the fire, word spread quickly that the fire started in the basement (confirmed in this article). By the next day, the word in the community was that the man living in the  basement was smoking crack, fell asleep, and his still-lit crack pipe set his mattress on fire. Today the word in the community is that the fire marshal has determined that the fire was started by a cigarette accidentally starting a mattress fire. So, same basic cause, just a difference in what the guy was smoking.

Now for the important angle that was only barely hinted at in the newspaper article: the Scovill row homes are single-family houses.  225 Wood Street, owned by Anthony and Lucy Karanja, has been illegally subdivided into three apartments, one per floor. This is a typical slumlord sort of thing to do and, indeed, the property has been a source of problems for the community, as you would expect from any property owned by a slumlord. I don't know if the Karanjas were the ones who subdivided the house--they purchased it in 2008 from Susan Stell, who in turn purchased it in 2005 from the estate of Mildred Pinchbeck. Mrs. Pinchbeck is fondly remembered in the neighborhood and took good care of the house, which was her home. It's sad that her home has fallen into the hands of slumlords.

In addition to operating an illegal apartment house (one man rented out the basement, another man rented out the first floor, and a woman with two little children rented out the top floor), the Karanjas appear to be delinquent in paying their taxes on the property and are in the process of selling the house--there is a sale pending realtor sign outside the house.

Another element to the story, which was completely left out of the article, is the functionality of the fire hydrants. According to one witness, the firefighters had trouble getting enough water pressure from the hydrants and may not have been able to use the first hydrant they tried. There is no official report about this, just the eyewitness account. From what I saw (I didn't go outside until about 20-30 minutes after the fire engines arrived), it did seem like it took a while for them to get the hoses running.

In response to the fire, the Scovill Homes Association is going to see if we can get some fire safety information for residents. We're also going to work on creating a fire lane between the houses on Wood and Ives Streets to make it easier for the firefighters to get to the backs of the houses (where they have the best access to the basements).

2 comments:

Howard Fielding said...

Hi, Waterbury Girl. I've asked the reporter and city editor to check into a correction and possibly to follow up on this. Thanks for calling it to our attention.

Please be aware, though, that lifting an entire story from the paper is a violation of copyright, and we ask that you don't do this. A link to the story (yes, we realize that only part of the story is visible to nonsubscribers) is preferred.

Thanks!
Howard Fielding, Republican-American

Waterbury Girl said...

Thanks Howard. I have now deleted everything that was not essential to my points. I understand and respect your copyright issues, but it does leave me a little uncomfortable, as readers might wonder if I deleted anything that would undermine my arguments.

I would normally just add a link to the article, without copying all the text, but since the article wasn't posted as a stand-alone, this wasn't possible--which is why I pasted the whole thing in.

I will remember to never do this again!