‘Death trap’: Email previously raised safety concerns prior to New Bedford deadly fire

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) — “Death trap.” That’s what one person called the rooming house on Acushnet Avenue in New Bedford that caught fire two weeks ago — killing two people — in an email to the city of New Bedford on July 25, 2022.

According to documents obtained by ABC 6 News, that person, whose name was redacted from the email, wrote to Mayor Jon Mitchell, saying that the doors in the rooming house were nailed shut, there were no hall lights, some smoke alarms were missing, and there was an inadequate fire escape with a trap door.

The New Bedford Fire Department and Building Department then did an inspection and made several recommendations, including installing an automatic sprinkler system.

Following the July 26 notice, the city said the property owner hired an engineer to design the sprinkler system and apply for the necessary city permits.

As for the inspection of the building, the city said the New Bedford Fire Department and Building Department “visually examined the scuttle” on July 27, 2022, and “found it to be clear of obstructions.” The smoke alarms were also fixed.

Fast forward to this year, the city said there were two fire department permits issued for the sprinkler — one was issued on Feb. 23 and the 27. The Building Department issued their permit on March 23 — days before the fire.

“The property owner was working toward installation since being put on notice by the fire department but had not begun installation at the time of the fire,” the city told ABC 6.

On March 28, firefighters encountered heavy flames coming from the Acushnet Avenue rooming house and immediately made five rescues using ground ladders.

Fire Chief Scott Kruger said 20 firefighters were sent into the four-story building to search for victims. Some, he said, were escaping by hanging out of windows or by jumping.

Kruger said the conditions became bad enough that all firefighters had to evacuate from the building. In addition to the two deaths, over 20 people were displaced.

The Department of Fire Services ruled the fire accidental.

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