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Franklin - Local Town Pages

Fire Victims Express Frustration at Delay in Retrieving Belongings

By J.D. O’Gara
Weeks following the Franklin Crossing fire, some residents of the most damaged building were upset they were not able to retrieve personal belongings before they were destroyed by mold.
Kate Ciavarra, a Medway teacher who lived in Building 2, felt she was “wrung around by the Brigs LLC,” upset with what she says was a lack of communication, then miscommunication, and speed. Residents, she said, were told to expect a week’s notice for demolition of Building 2 to salvage, but only got three days’ notice after waiting weeks, and then had one day for workers to hand them items to place in containers they brought. To make matters worse, she says, mold “caused half of that stuff to be thrown away.”
Ciavarra says displaced victims are grateful residents and pets are safe, “but despite getting a lot of things out, a lot of it could have been saved if things happened faster, and … we were not given a lot of information that could help us understand why things are happening the way they are.”
“Freddy,” who has owned a condo at Franklin Crossing for 13 years, was also frustrated. Since the fire, the heavy equipment operator has been living in his truck, still going to work each day at 4 a.m. Still responsible for his mortgage, Freddy is frustrated that his building will take two years to rebuild, and that master insurance won’t pay for any contents.
“I want to know where to put my head for the next two years. I lost everything,” says Freddy. Freddy felt Brigs “wasn’t doing much, but they’re ready to fine you if you do something.”
Aaron Morey, who rented in Building 2 with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, feels fortunate to have found a new, but more expensive, apartment this month after footing the bill for the Best Western.
“It’s been very stressful,” said Morey, who felt Brigs “mishandled the timeline … and they kept changing the story.” Morey says residents had tried to obtain their stuff before it was completely trashed, “but everything was trashed, because of the mold.” Correspondence, he says, lacked compassion. “It was, bring stuff, you have one or two days, if you can’t come, you can’t get anything, and they had management workers, four men, to move stuff out of the 9 units, which was not enough.” Morey also questioned whether buildings were as unsafe as they were being told.
“I would have preferred (Brigs, LLC) took action and contacted everyone, and … moved everyone’s belongings out the week of the fire, before everything got damaged,” says Morey.
Scott Wolf, of Brigs LLC, responded that he is sympathetic to the residents’ feelings and understands their frustration, “unfortunately in a fire of this magnitude there is a process that must be followed. The night of the fire, the building was declared structurally unsound by the Fire Department and Building Department. There was to be no access to the building and we were asked to have 24-hour security to ensure no one got in. This was confirmed by an independent structural engineer in the days that followed. Once the Cause and Origin investigation is completed and the insurance company releases the building, Section 2 will be removed completely.”
Wolf says he isn’t surprised by the miscommunication. “The residents stressed and upset. They want to get in there and get their belongings,” he said. “We have to look out for the safety of the residents and our staff in entering a structurally unsound structure. Ultimately, against all the reports and concerns, we did access where we felt it was safe to obtain what we could for the residents. We felt it was the right thing to do.”
“From my perspective, I thought (Brigs, LLC) were very accommodating,” said Franklin Fire Chief James McLaughlin “Building 2, where the fire started, was in real bad shape, with the roof. We wanted to make sure Building 2 had some fencing secured around there. We were very fearful someone would go in in the middle of the night. We certainly understand people would want to retrieve items important to them, but when all is said and done … the bottom line is always safety first.”
 “The Town of Franklin put a placard on this building, 2, 4 and 6, that says it’s an unsafe structure. It’s not a condemnation of the building, or a demolition order. It says we have inspected and found it to be seriously damaged and unsafe to occupy,” says Franklin Building Commissioner “Gus” Brown. “It’s heartbreaking – my heart goes out to the tenants and the owners; their life is in flames, literally, and this could happen to anybody. With that said, after I post that (the building) is only to be entered (by those) specially authorized by writing.”
Brown continued, “Because Brigs is the property management company, they contacted me about specific people being able to go in,” although the Town was very hesitant to give any authorization for anyone to enter that building. “If someone goes in and gets hurt, and I authorized it, I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Brown.
“As much as the residents of Building 2 are upset, unfortunately, there’s a process that occurs in a fire that involves many entities to keep them safe,” says Wolf. “It was a decision reviewed by many people.”
Building 2 residents were also frustrated their building didn’t have sprinklers. To that end, Commissioner Brown noted, “Mass General Law and the building codes have changed a lot of rules and regulations for sprinkling of structures. If this building was built brand new today, it would be required to have sprinklers.”
Brown noted Brigs “gave me what I needed in a pretty expeditious manner” for a Building Code Review conducted on June 3rd. “There’s no legislation or statute to go into an existing building to make sure it’s brought up to code if it’s undamaged, he says. “That’s not we do as a state.” The code report has indicated that Building 2, completely destroyed, now needs to be rebuilt with sprinklers, while Building 4, since it does not need to be rebuilt, can be restored to its pre-fire condition, with specific upgrades.
Wolf added that any decision to voluntarily add sprinklers to the property fell on the condo association or trustees, not the building management company.
“Nobody was injured. Everybody was safe. There was no loss of human life,” says Wolf, “I get that the process is never understandable to the people impacted. I feel horrible for what they’re going through, but I don’t feel like we missed any points.”
On an additional note, all residents with whom Local Town Pages spoke expressed gratitude to neighborhood efforts to help them, noting especially help from The Franklin Lions, the Franklin Elks, Cheryl Hobbs, and St. Mary’s Church.