Investigation Finds Cause of Deadly Three-Alarm Fire Was Electrical
Officials said Wednesday that an investigation into the fire at 5 Hancock St. has confirmed the three-alarm blaze was caused by an electrical problem in one apartment.
[Editor's Note: The article has been updated to reflect a correction. Fire officials have only stated that Firefighter James Rice appeared to have inhaled toxic fumes in the fire.]
Days after 42-year-old Peabody firefighter James Rice was laid to rest in Cedar Grove Cemetery, local and state officials say they have concluded their joint investigation and determined the cause of the three-alarm fire Rice died battling on Dec. 23.
An announcement was released by state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan's office on Wednesday, confirming accounts of those inside the multi-family home during the fire that the blaze was sparked by an electrical problem.
Coan and Fire Chief Steven Pasdon announced earlier that arson had been ruled out. Coan and other officials said via the joint statement Wednesday that the fire started in a second floor apartment at 5 Hancock St.
Building residents told reporters there was a power outage shortly before the fire. When a tenant went to check the circuit box, it blew up, they said.
Officials said two residents in the apartment where the fire started were
treated for smoke inhalation, while the other occupants of the building escaped safely. Overall, 12 people were displaced by the fire.
Officials said the six-family building was not in violation of any fire or building codes -- it was equipped with a properly working fire alarm system, smoke alarms, heat detectors and carbon monoxide alarms -- but there was no sprinkler system installed.
They said there was no law requiring residential sprinklers when the building was constructed, as there is today, therefore no violation. City records show the building was originally constructed in 1830, in fact.
The Chief Medical Examiner’s office has not yet released its final report on the cause of Rice’s death. Fire officials, however, have said Rice may have inhaled toxic fumes.
Rice was one of the first units inside the building and was searching for any occupants when he became trapped in a stairway.
"Final results sometimes take several weeks until all tests are completed. Although his cause of death is undetermined pending further testing, it is clear [Firefighter] Rice died while fighting the fire. [Firefighter] Rice was found and quickly rescued by firefighters from the second floor apartment," said the statement.
Rice's death came just two weeks after the death of Worcester firefighter Jon Davies, who was killed Dec. 8 in the line of duty, fighting a residential structure fire in Worcester.
Davies' family and Worcester firefighters were among the thousands this past Friday who attended Rice's funeral services in Peabody.
Officials said the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducts a review of every incident in which a firefighter is killed in the line of duty to see if there are lessons to be learned to improve workplace safety. Nothing has been forthcoming from NIOSH yet.
The Hancock Street fire was jointly investigated by the Peabody Fire Department, Peabody Police Department, Coan's office, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office and by local agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Additionally, assistance was provided by the Code Compliance Unit of Coan's office, an electrical expert and state police crime scene services.