Could they have been prevented?

Andrew
Andrew Wagstaff
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Fire chief looks back at some of Amherst’s historic blazes

Amherst Fire Chief Bill Crossman looks through some of the pictures of past fires the department has fought during his 38 years in the service. Most of the town’s major fires could have been prevented, he said.

AMHERST – The Maritime Block fire. The King Lam Restaurant fire. The downtown fire of 2012.

These and most of the large fires in Amherst during the past 40 years have one thing in common, according to Fire Chief Bill Crossman. They could have been prevented.

“A lot of fires in the past – any major fire we’ve had – have all been related to poor maintenance,” said the chief, who will soon retired after 38 years with the department. “Wiring is one thing, but there are a number of different things.”

While there was no definitive cause determined for the town’s last major fire, which leveled a busy commercial and residential section of Victoria Street, Crossman said all signs point to poor maintenance.

“There’s a pretty good chance that fire could have been prevented,” he said. “We think that the fire was electrically-related, and that if the property was better maintained in the basement area…”

With commercial properties, the chief said it is not uncommon for the basement area to be forgotten in regards to fire safety.

“People do renovations, they’re anxious, they’ve spent a lot of money and they’re anxious to start recovering some of that,” he said. “Sometimes they put aside finishing the necessary changes in the basement. In many cases in the past, that has contributed to fire spread.”

While the department still responds to its share of fires, Crossman said most of those blazes have involve older appliances and older building materials. During his years in the fire service he has seen a steady rise in fire prevention and a resulting decline in major fires.

About 10 years ago the department began doing more fire inspections of Amherst properties such as multi-residential units, commercial and industrial buildings, which he said has contributed greatly to a decrease in fires.

Corresponding improvements in building design and construction, improved appliances, and legislation such as the Fire Safety Act in 2003 have added to the improved environment, he explained, as has increased public education efforts.

“When I joined the department 38 years ago, there was no fire prevention program in effect,” said Crossman. “It has evolved over the years.”

The department sets aside October as Fire Prevention Month, targeting different areas each week. The chief, for example, has been spending a lot of time of late working with local seniors, visiting their complexes, doing fire drills and talking to them.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention…

“Unless it was accidental, any fire could have been prevented,” he said.

awagstaff@citizenrecord.ca

Twitter: @ADNandrew

Organizations: The King

Geographic location: Amherst, Victoria Street

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