Small Norwood Fire Reaps Large ConsequencesDec 31, 2020 01:47PM ● By Donna Lane
On Tuesday, October 27, the Norwood Fire Department was called to investigate an odor of gas at the Norwood Commerce Center on Endicott Street. When they arrived, a tenant told the firefighters there was smoke in the building. Sure enough, the firefighters found heavy smoke on the second floor. The original fire was a small one, and when the fire department located it they were able to extinguish it with little difficulty. According to Norwood Fire Department
Chief George T. Morrice, “It was pretty much kept in check by the sprinkler system.”
However, the Chief noted that the firefighters had a hard time reaching the fire because of clutter and improper modifications to the building and needed 350-feet of additional hose to get to the fire to put it out. A walk-through the building by the Chief found conditions that didn’t meet life safety or building codes and Norwood’s Building Commissioner, Matthew Walsh, was called to the scene.
The following day, Walsh went back to the site with the electrical inspector, plumbing inspector, and the fire department, and did a walk-through of buildings 23 through 26 (considered the main building) where numerous building, electric, plumbing, and fire issues were discovered. Chief Morrice and Walsh noted that all of the building issues needed to be addressed before the Center could be opened again and a cease and desist order was issued by Walsh.
Any number of the violations – fire, building, electrical, health, plumbing, and zoning, all of which were found – would have been reason to close the building. One of the most egregious was an autobody repair shop operating out of the basement of the building, housing multiple cars, motorcycles, boats, flammable material, and other paraphernalia. The building had never been permitted or zoned for that purpose and the ceiling of the shop is not fire-rated for storing flammable materials.
Walsh said there was also a 25-seat theater on the second floor of the building that did not meet proper life safety or health requirements; several illegal bathrooms did not have adequate plumbing or ventilation; businesses selling food and alcohol without proper licenses; and several building projects that weren’t permitted by the Town that didn’t meet code or safety standards.
There were also a number of fire code violations, such as inadequate emergency lights and exit signs; obstructed exit paths, blocked and obstructed exit doors; inadequate and obstructed fire suppression system; the fire alarm and fire suppression were not code compliant; there was unpermitted electrical work; and there was no record of inspections for multiple fire escapes. Walsh explained that according to the State building code, fire escapes are required to be inspected by a certified, licensed company every five years and there’s no record of these inspections ever being done.
The Commerce Center, which is also home to the Winsmith Mill Market, was formerly an old tannery building which was converted into a variety of shops and businesses in 2012. The “building” actually has 14 different, individual structures that are all connected. The 150,000-square foot main structure houses buildings 23 through 26 which was issued the cease and desist order.
On November 14, there was another incident at the Commerce Center, but in a different building. An employee of the management company fell into an elevator shaft and the fire department had to be called. [As of this date, the man is in rehab and on the road to recovery.]
“We had to bring in technical rescue to excavate the gentleman and then bring him to the hospital,” Chief Morrice said. “When we went into that building, we found even more violations.”
Once again, Norwood’s Building Commissioner was called to investigate. Walking through the building to check thatthe elevator doors were secured, Walsh noted numerous other code violations in this building.
Accompanied once again by the electrical and plumbing inspectors, the fire department, and a representative from the fire marshal’s office, Walsh inspected the remaining buildings on the property on November 17 and 19. Once again, they found numerous code violations and a great deal of unpermitted work that had been done in the building. The group determined that there were so many different violations that another cease and desist order for use and occupancy of the remainder of the buildings on the property was warranted. Walsh issued the order on November 24.
There are over 170 tenants in the Commerce Center which is home to a variety of small businesses, including antique shops, clothiers, photographers, artisans, furniture makers, musicians, and many other types of businesses. It’s only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and before the pandemic did a brisk business on the weekends, drawing people from throughout the region. They had to close for a few months because of the pandemic, so business owners were looking forward to brisk Christmas sales. They are, needless to say, very disappointed.
What progress has been made toward reopening the businesses?
“As part of the cease and desist order, the owner of the Commerce Center is required to provide the building official with a Chapter 34 review (a State-mandated review) of existing conditions on each individual building,” Walsh said. “They have done that on two buildings so far. And the owners have indicated that they intend to make the needed repairs to make the buildings code-compliant so their tenants can occupy the buildings again.”
It will doubtless be a lengthy process.
Walsh explained the omission of town permits was the most egregious issues he discovered.
“To be honest. the thing that stood out the most was the amount of work that was being done with no permits – no building permits, no electrical permits, no plumbing permits,” Walsh said. “What they’ve done is subdivided the spaces that have created such hazardous situations that the fire department stated [and it was one of the bases for serving the cease and desist] that they would not send firemen into the building if there was an emergency because it was so subdivided it created hazardous conditions such that if firemen went in the building they may not get out – they’d get lost inside the building.”
Just think. If that small fire and elevator mishap did not happen, people who rented space in the buildings and those who frequented the small businesses were all at risk of something potentially catastrophic happening. There are building, plumbing, electrical, and fire codes for a reason. And there are specialists who can advise on the proper methods for doing things. Pulling a permit may just keep you and your property safe and sound.