In August 2010 The City
of Boston Fire Deparment
filed a criminal complaint against the Department of Neighborhood
Development. It is not often that one city department files a
another city department, no less one that is "criminal" but that's what
This narrative is based on an
interview with Fire Marshal
Kodzis and was approved by him September 27, 2010.
of December 2009 DND real estate became the owner of 65 E. Cottage St.
through a tax lien foreclosure. Hal Cohen (prior owner) was
longer responsible for the tenants and their safety. Rather,
fell to the Department of Neighborhood Development. As a result
requested a walk-through and an inspection by both the fire department
and ISD. This occurred in early January 2010.
DND made it
clear they wanted the tenants of 65 E. Cottage St. including the flea
market to not be disturbed during this change of ownership.
result DND requested a statement from the fire department as to what
would be required to upgrade the building while maintaining the tenants
in place. In response the Boston Fire Department issued an
abatement order dated February 22, 2010 with this aspect in mind.
Although Hal Cohen had until one year after the
foreclosure date to redeem ownership of the building, he was no longer
owner of record. DND
Real Estate was now
responsible for the condition of the building including the leases and
One of the first steps
taken by the fire department was to
issue an immediate vacate of both the second and third floors. No tenants were to be
allowed there because
of the lack of an adequate fire alarm notification system. In Fire
"By the time the fire reached
the second and third floors, there
would be no way for anyone to safely vacate the building from these
Apparently the 2/22/2010
abatement was substantial in nature -- very
costly to upgrade the building and this was only for the fire
department requirements. ISD had also conducted an
inspection. We do
not know the results of this, but any requirement cited by ISD only
added to the cost of the upgrade.
|Without going into a lot
of detail, Fire Marshal Kodzis cited three major categories:
fire alarm notification system requires both visual and audible
components. The 65 E. Cottage St. building was fully
in this category.
- Building fire alarm notification
- Building fire load
- Building egress
Building fire load relates to building contents and is a function of
type, size, and rate of burn. So for example a few pieces of
wood contrast with to a pile of sawdust. One takes a long
burn; the other goes up in flames quickly.
Maxwell Flea Market "booths" contained many small items which could
burn quickly. As a result this section of the building was
have a high fire load. Again in combination with the
alarm system, this situation only made the fire profile of the building
worse. Finally, the building did not satisfy egress
|The Boston Fire Department was in frequent
contact with DND and emphasized the importance of rapid response
regarding the abatement. We asked Fire Marshal
Kodzis why it
took a full six months before definitive action was taken.
all the fire department's normal protocol is to followup on an
abatement order within 15 days.
The answer provided is interesting. It's not so easy for a
department to respond in 15 days. They must follow a public
process, making sure they do not violate any bidding laws.
given the extent of the repairs necessary to upgrade the building, the
process could not be handled quickly. All the while, of
tenants including the Maxwell Flea Market vendors were using a building
that was considered unsafe.
|Some time in August 2010
Marshal Kodzis determined that enough time had passed. In
again with DND he also found out that the city would not be complying
with the Fire Department abatement – period. There was no
available to do it.
Accordingly based on
standard Fire Department protocol, Fire
Marshal Kodzis swore
out a complaint to the Boston Housing Court
against the City of Boston
DND. Please note that it is a
serious step when one city
department goes to court against another city department. It is not an indictment of
DND, Fire Marsh Kodzis stated,
but a reflection of the reality and the apparently unsafe conditions in
the same time a higher authority needed to step in and
make sure that the proper steps were followed for the safety of
involved. This is
Court. As noted
above it is the Housing Court that becomes the enforcing authority when a
complaint is sworn out.
|Both the Fire Department
and DND appeared in Housing Court on opposite sides. The
first order of business was for Housing
Court to determine the nature of
complaint. Had DND
been so negligent as
to warrant a criminal complaint being filed? After
some discussion Housing Court deemed this a civil matter.
Fire Marshall Kodzis stated: "It is
a sad fact of life that the vacate order was passed
down to the owner of the flea market as a complete surprise. Marcy
Navarro had no warning that any
building safety issues had been brewing since the beginning of the year."
As of noon
26, 2010 Ms. Navarro
received notification that the flea market was officially closed, that
locks had been changed and that the flea market tenants, upon showing
identification, would be allowed in the building to remove their