Maine cities prioritize building safety in wake of fires

The cities of Biddeford and Portland, along with other communities around Maine, are stepping up their efforts to make sure apartment buildings are safe, in response to two major fires that killed eight people in 2014.

A fire in Biddeford on Sept. 18, 2014, killed Michael Moore, 23, and James Ford, 21. According to the state Fire Marshal’s Office, there were more than 20 safety violations at the building. On Nov. 1, 2014, a fire killed six young adults at a house on Noyes Street in Portland.

According to a report this week in the Portland Press Herald, the City Council in Biddeford voted to hire an additional building inspector, and to expand the city’s inspections program for apartment buildings. The City of Portland has taken similar steps.

Berman & Simmons attorney Michael Bigos represented the families of Michael Moore and James Ford in civil lawsuits against their landlord in Biddeford. Those claims were recently settled for a confidential amount, and the cases have been formally dismissed at U.S. District Court in Portland.

Bigos hopes the publicity generated by the lawsuits has contributed to public discussions about fire safety, and decisions by municipalities to help protect apartment dwellers. The lawyers of Berman & Simmons have a mission to not only win cases for their clients, but to make communities safer.

“We wanted to improve the housing safety of all people in Maine by bringing code compliance into the public spotlight. Tenants deserve safe housing and landlords who comply with fire and building codes, plus adequate oversight by towns and cities,” Bigos said.

Click here to read the Portland Press Herald article. Here’s an excerpt:

Worried about fire dangers, Biddeford to inspect all apartment buildings

The city adds staff for the multiyear project to correct code violations and try to avoid tragedies like the two blazes that killed eight in 2014.

By Gillian Graham, Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — The city has launched an ambitious program to conduct safety inspections of apartment buildings, an effort prompted by two apartment fires that killed a total of eight young adults in southern Maine.

The inspection program by the building codes department will focus in the next year on multi-unit buildings on Main Street, then expand over the next couple of years to include all of the roughly 650 apartment buildings in the city.

Last week, the City Council voted to add $70,000 to the city budget to hire an extra inspector for one year. The proactive, systematic approach to inspections is a change for the codes office, which in the past conducted inspections only in response to complaints, said Roby Fecteau, director of codes enforcement. His office has inspected six downtown buildings so far, with plans to step up the pace once a new inspector is hired.

“The fires in Portland and Biddeford where individuals died were a wake-up call to us,” said Mayor Alan Casavant. “We want to make sure Biddeford is recognized for taking the safety of our residents seriously. This is a step in that direction.”

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