Cisco Meneses Expert Witness Fire Escape Collapse Boston – Interviewed by WCVB NEWS

Jim Morrison — Boston.com Correspondent

February 9, 2022, 11:27 am

In the bustling city of Boston, the safety of fire escapes is a pressing concern. On July 22, 1975, a tragic incident highlighted this issue when 19-year-old Diana Bryant and her 2-year-old goddaughter Tiare Jones tried to escape a fire by climbing onto a fire escape. The fire escape collapsed before firefighters could reach them, resulting in Bryant’s death, though her goddaughter survived, thanks to Bryant cushioning her fall. This heart-wrenching moment, captured by a photojournalist, led to the enactment of stringent fire escape inspection laws in Massachusetts.

These laws require fire escapes to be examined, tested, and certified for structural adequacy and safety every five years by a registered design professional or an acceptable authority. Despite this mandate, a staggering number of fire escapes remain uncertified. According to records from Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, there are 9,637 fire escapes in the city, yet only 3,267 inspection affidavits were issued from 2016 to 2020. The actual number of fire escapes might be higher, posing significant risks to residents and property buyers alike.

The implications extend beyond safety concerns. In the wake of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, Florida, in June 2021, mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have tightened their requirements. Properties with significant deferred maintenance or inspection violations face delayed closings and higher interest rates. This includes compliance with fire escape inspections, which could impact loan eligibility.

Phil Cucchi of BeaconLight Home Inspection, also a Newton firefighter, emphasizes that many fire escapes in Greater Boston are in poor condition due to age and exposure to harsh New England weather. Rust and corrosion turn these vital escape routes into hazards, increasing the urgency for regular inspections.

Jake Wark, from the state Department of Fire Services, stresses that property owners must ensure fire escapes are inspected and maintained. Residents should also keep these exits clear of obstructions, as every second counts during a fire emergency. Unfortunately, many landlords and condo associations remain unaware of the five-year inspection requirement, potentially leading to severe financial consequences.

Attorney Chris Malloy highlights the legal ramifications for non-compliance. If a fire escape fails and causes harm, the condominium association could face negligence lawsuits. Even if insurance covers part of the liability, the remainder could be financially devastating for unit owners.

Francisco “Cisco” Meneses, founder of the National Fire Escape Association, underscores the critical role of certified fire escapes in preventing fatalities. He notes that no occupant or firefighter has died due to the failure of a certified, load-tested fire escape in the U.S.

This situation calls for immediate attention from property owners, managers, and residents to ensure compliance with safety regulations, protecting both lives and investments.

Jim Morrison can be reached at JamesAndrewMorrison@gmail.com. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeHomes.

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