It was a terrible way to start the New Year.
Three people died and nearly 50 were displaced as a fire consumed the five-story building at 106 North East Street on January 1, 2017.
Looking for a quick way to respond, the City of Holyoke has expanded its federally funded Rental Neighborhood Improvement Program to provide financial incentive to rental property owners to include more robust fire alarm systems.
The program already provided matching grants to building owners for property improvements, according to Alicia M. Zoeller, administrator for Holyoke’s office of community development. Following a request from Mayor Alex B. Morse and the city’s Fire Department shortly after the New Years fire took place, Zoeller’s department was able to funnel $270,000 into a program specifically for fire protection systems.
“It was a matter of tweaking that program for a specific purpose,” she said.
There has been tremendous amount of pressure to improve fire safety in Holyoke’s old buildings following the New Year’s Day fire. Tenants injured while escaping the fire from the building’s third story are suing that building’s owner, his company and the property-management company that maintained the structure, according to a recent story in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
The plaintiffs are Briana Serrano and her boyfriend Eric Albarran. Serrano injured her spine jumping from her window while Albarran suffered second and third degree burns waiting to be rescued by the Fire Department. Most terrifying of all was that Serrano had to drop her 2-year-old daughter Aubrey Albarran to the ground for neighbors to catch before jumping herself.
Among other charges, the suit alleges that the property owner allowed dangerous building conditions to persist which they say led to the fire and that the building did not have an adequate fire alarm system.
The Advocate is also among the publications that has called for improved fire safety in Holyoke and beyond in an editorial that followed the New Year’s Day fire.
The program, called the Rental Property Fire Protection System Incentive Program, provides one-to-one matching grants of up to $10,000 to install or upgrade fire alarm systems or direct call boxes, which provide a direct link to the city’s Fire Department.
Sprinkler systems, which Holyoke Building Commissioner Damian Cote said would have had an impact on controlling the New Years Day fire, are not covered under the program.
Zoeller said she does not know whether the program will be expanded into a larger-reaching effort to improve fire safety in the city.
“We try to be responsive to community needs,” she said, adding that there could be an expansion “if this program is successful and a lot of people take advantage of it.”
In other words, if landlords don’t use the money and install alarm systems, the program could end without having made much progress.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.