By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Wednesday from fire survivors who wondered how their lives might have been different if they had sprinklers to protect them.
Marianne Roche was beginning her day one morning in 1999 when an ashtray in her Pittsfield home caught fire, igniting her shirt when she sought to grab the ashtray and put it in the sink. As smoke filled her home, she grabbed her young child and ran into the street screaming for help, only afterwards realizing she was wearing no clothes. Roche ran inside to grab a blanket and held her child as she counted the sirens of the approaching fire trucks.
"That is pretty much my last memory for three months," said Roche, who was badly burned and spent months in a coma.
Rep. Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat, has filed legislation (H 2121) that would allow municipalities to adopt legislation requiring the installation of sprinklers on new residential buildings with two or more units or buildings that are "substantially rehabilitated."
Balser's bill has been altered from past iterations, according to The Safety Institute Executive Director Lewis Howe, and it has the backing of firefighters associations. The committee is considering several other bills dealing with sprinkler systems.
Advocates for landlords, who say many small landlords are not versed on their responsibilities, argued the solution to better fire safety is education for tenants and landlords, not additional laws.
"Is it really necessary to reinvent the wheel?" asked Skip Schloming, executive director of the Small Property Owners Association, who said penalties included in the bill already exist and "are not being imposed, as they could be."
"I am certain that most small landlords do not know when building permits are required and when they are not," said Dawna Carrette, a property owner in Cambridge. She said, "I believe that education is the key to reducing fires."
Last September, Patricia DeLuca was watching television in her apartment in Boston's North End, when she heard a sound that didn't make sense and then discovered a fire in the hall, which she escaped from onto a small platform outside her kitchen window.
With flames below, DeLuca climbed onto a neighbor's fire escape.
"I don't know how I did it," DeLuca told the committee, saying she was badly burned.
Roche said after the fire she became acquainted with a new world of doctors and hospitals and wondered how things might have been different if a sprinkler had doused the fire.
"I'm just left wondering," she said.
"The courage you display...is very moving," said Senate Chairman of Public Safety James Timilty, commending the women on bravery during the fires and in sharing their stories with the committee.