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Haverhill Archive

January 23, 2008

Sprinklers keep fire from spreading in Haverhill condo building

HAVERHILL - One day after Lawrence suffered one of the worst fires in its history, a blaze broke out in one of Haverhill's historic downtown brick buildings.

But thanks to a building sprinkler system that worked as intended, the fire was kept in check until firefighters arrived, avoiding what could have been a disaster, fire officials said.

Yesterday at 9:15 a.m., a master box alarm sounded at 50 Washington St., also known as the Finney 1882 building, alerting police and firefighters, as well as workers and residents in the building. The four-story building houses the offices of Essex Management Group and 16 condominiums.

"If the building didn't have a sprinkler system, it's possible we could have lost the unit," said acting fire Chief Richard Borden. "Everything worked as it should have."

Borden said a preliminary investigation shows the fire was apparently caused by a problem with electrical wiring. The fire was in a wall between a boiler room and a condominium owned by Jay Johnson, Borden said.

He said the building's fire alarm was automatically triggered after sensing the fire and sent an immediate signal to the Fire Department's dispatch center in the police station. The building's sprinkler system kicked in and kept the fire contained to a single fourth-floor condominium, he said.

Johnson was not home at the time, according to other tenants.

Yesterday's fire was similar to one that happened June 14 at Jaques/Pilling Place, 67 Washington St., which is across the street from the Finney building. A fire broke out in that 30-unit building and also was kept in check by a sprinkler system until firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames.

Lana Dorsey, whose second-floor condo is two floors below the condo where yesterday's fire broke out, said she was first alerted to a problem by the building's fire alarm, and then by dripping water.

"Sometimes the alarm just goes off," Dorsey said.

"I placed a pot in the bathroom, thinking it was just a leak," she said of water dripping from the ceiling. "Then the floors started getting wet, and water began coming through the ceilings and light fixtures."

Dorsey said she then smelled smoke, prompting her to leave the building by taking the stairs.

"I'm one of the few residents who are home during the day," Dorsey said. "I didn't have time to do anything except to get out of the building."

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