HAVERHILL — An elderly woman died early this morning, trapped inside a fully-engulfed Washington Street home — and firefighters say Mayor James Fiorentini is to blame.
Firefighter Todd Guertin said the rescue truck was the first vehicle on the scene but was limited to what it could do because the mayor recently cut two of three firefighters on the vehicle, which is responsible for search and rescue at fires. Guertin, one of the firefighters' union leaders, accused the mayor of "murder" and said the victim's family should sue the city for wrongful death.
"This was a political move when the city has over $10 million in reserves," Guertin said. "The mayor should be charged with murder for taking the rescue truck out of service over a dispute with the union."
But Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro said the rescue truck was not first on the scene. He said any claims that this woman died because of cuts to the rescue truck are "untrue."
Fiorentini also said he was unaware of any issues with the rescue truck.
"This is a terrible, terrible tragedy and should not be politicized," Fiorentini said in a brief telephone interview.
DeNaro gave this breakdown on the arrival of fire equipment at the scene:
12:37:16 a.m.: 911 call comes in for fire at 477 Washington St.
12:40:31 a.m.: Engine 1 arrives on scene.
12:46:40 a.m.: Rescue truck arrives.
12:46:42 a.m.: Ladder 1 arrives.
12:46:45 a.m.: Engine 3 arrives.
12:46:47 a.m.: Engine 4 arrives.
DeNaro said firefighters were unable to access the front of the triple-decker because it was completely engulfed. They tried to enter through the back of the home, but were met there with more excessive heat and flames. He said the victim lived with two younger relatives who attempted to put the fire out themselves instead of calling 911 immediately. When firefighters arrived, the home was fully engulfed, DeNaro said.
The woman who died in the fire has been identified as Phyllis Lamot, 84. The other relatives in the home have been identified as Raymond Matthes, 55, and Sherry Matthes, 53. Both Raymond and Sherry Matthes were injured in the fire. One was taken to a Boston hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. The other was taken to a local hospital. It was unclear which victims went to which hospitals.
DeNaro commended the firefighters who were on scene, saying the fire posed a threat to neighboring homes but were saved because of the firefighters' actions. He said the only equipment issue was with the first hose. As firefighters were working to connect it, a burning electrical wire fell on it and burned through the hose which caused a small, but insignificant delay.
But Guertin maintains the mayor's $200,000 cut to the rescue truck staffing is to blame for the woman's death.
"Is a wrongful death lawsuit gonna cost the city more than $200,000?" Guertin said in a text message to a reporter.
In a brief phone interview, Guertin repeatedly and angrily blamed the victim's death on the mayor, then said he was about to give a media interview and hung up.
Firefighters are planning a press conference later today. State Fire Marshal's office is on scene investigating.