Brookline sees decline in damaging non-residential fires

By Sophia Brown
BU News Service

BROOKLINE — The recorded number of damaging non-residential fires in Brookline has dropped for the second year in a row, an analysis of data from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services shows. Four damaging fires were recorded in 2016, two in 2017 and one in 2018, according to the data.

Non-residential fires include fires in commercial buildings, community buildings, outbuildings such as sheds, and structures such as docks and piers.

Non-residential fires in Brookline from 2013-2018, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services. The fires that resulted in monetary damage are marked in red, those that did not in orange. (Sophia Brown/Boston University News Service)

The most common type of non-residential fire is categorized as a “Type 113” by the Brookline Fire Department and the state. A Type 113 fire is a “cooking fire involving the contents of a cooking vessel without fire extension beyond the vessel,” according to the January 2015 National Fire Incident Reporting System Complete Reference Guide. These types of fires are easily contained and unlikely to cause any damage.

Yet not all fires are as easily contained. Over the past five years, Brookline has had 17 fires that caused monetary loss, ranging from $10 to $500,000. These are most common in restaurants, grocery stores and food-service businesses.

But while these fires are more damaging, they are also happening less frequently. By contrast, the number of 113-category fires in Brookline over the past five years has remained at an average of 45 per year.

Damaging non-residential fires in Brookline from 2013-2018, based on Department of Fire Services data. (Sophia Brown/Boston University News Service)

Both the Department of Fire Services and the Brookline Fire Department attributed this decline in damaging non-residential fires to changes in the overall state fire code, which is updated triennially by the Massachusetts Board of Fire Prevention Regulations.

“Sadly, fire codes are written in blood,” said Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the Department of Fire Services. She said the hundreds of deaths from both the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in 1942 and The Station nightclub fire in 2003 were major impetuses for changes to Massachusetts fire code.

The Cocoanut Grove fire resulted in stricter emergency exit laws, particularly regarding revolving doors, Mieth said. Changes based on The Station fire “ranged from requiring crowd managers, trained crowd managers, in places of entertainment, and installing sprinklers [as well as] restrictions on the kind of wall finishing so you don’t have that flammable foam that they had in Rhode Island (location of the fire),” Mieth said.

While there is a national and a state basis for each municipality’s fire code, Mieth said it’s up to the local fire departments to enforce the fire and building codes.

“There are certain kinds of, I might call them, ‘at-risk facilities’ that they’re (local fire departments) required to inspect,” Mieth said. “This mostly covers buildings with vulnerable populations such as schools, hospitals and nursing homes.”

The fire departments and municipal governments are also responsible for issuing most permits and licenses regarding combustible or flammable material, Mieth said, although the state issues licenses for blasting, fireworks and servicing fire extinguishers.

“The fire departments are doing a lot of fire prevention that way (inspecting companies) as well, making sure that the amount of flammables that maybe a chemical processing or manufacturing plant has on-site meets the amount that’s allowed by their permit and that they’re stored correctly,” she said.

Captain Todd Cantor of the Brookline Fire Department said he didn’t have an explanation for the decrease.

“Our inspections haven’t really changed,” Cantor said. “(Massachusetts) updated the fire code in 2015 and 2018, so whether those played into the reduction in the fires isn’t something I could provide you an educated answer on.”

Data: Some of the 113-category non-residential fires in Brookline from 2013-18. Click here to view the full data.
(Sophia Brown/Boston University News Service)

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