WATERVILLE — An apartment fire Feb. 1 on Summer Street that left six people homeless and injured a firefighter was caused by an electrical problem in the wall of a second-floor living room, Waterville fire Chief David LaFountain said Wednesday.

“It’s been determined accidental, electrical,” LaFountain said. “It’s electrical in the wall — an old BX cable, a type of wiring they used to use where insulation around conductors breaks down over time and before you know it, two conductors are close together without insulation. Eventually, it overheats and starts a fire.”

The apartment fire that was reported shortly after 5 a.m. at 15 Summer St. drew a large response from emergency crews. Two people escaped through a window onto a porch roof and had to be rescued by firefighters using a ladder.

Firefighter Dan Brown was injured when a ceiling collapsed on top of him. One tenant with a respiratory problem was taken to a Massachusetts hospital for treatment after first being taken to a local hospital.

Fire officials discovered batteries had been removed from smoke detectors in the building, which posed a serious risk to life, according to LaFountain.

“If you know you have BX cable, it should be replaced, but I think the bigger lesson is leave batteries in smoke detectors,” LaFountain said Wednesday. “That would have given more notice to people to get out. We’re seeing more and more people, especially in apartments, are removing batteries from detectors or putting detectors in drawers. This would have been very close to six fatalities had they not reacted when they did to get the heck out of there as quickly as they could.”


He said one tenant was found unconscious and had to be rescued from the building.

Brown, the firefighter, suffered an injury in the shoulder-neck area and has been working light or restrictive duty at the fire department, according to LaFountain, who said Brown is a valued employee.

“Dan is fine,” he said. “It’s slow, getting back — strength and sensation. It’s taken longer than he certainly had hoped, but he’s also hoping to return to full duty on Friday.”

Waterville firefighters dug Brown out of the rubble as flames ripped through the building, and a crew from the Skowhegan Fire Department’s Rapid Intervention Team, which was at the scene, went in and rescued Brown. Other firefighters had bumps and bruises and one suffered physical fatigue. Firefighters had a difficult time entering the building because there was so much fire, and they also were dealing with cold and icy conditions.

More than 40 firefighters from Waterville, Skowhegan, Winslow, Fairfield, Oakland and Vassalboro worked at the scene, as did police, public works crews and Delta Ambulance. An old dog died in the fire, according to neighbors.

The state fire marshal’s office, Waterville fire Capt. John Gromek and an official from a private investigation company looked at the structural aspects of the building and agreed it appeared the fire started with the BX cable and connections, according to LaFountain. The large building in the city’s South End was constructed in 1920.


LaFountain said he did not have any information about the tenant who was taken to the Massachusetts hospital after the fire. Other tenants suffered smoke inhalation, officials said at the time.

The chief said the insurance company would determine if the building is destroyed. LaFountain added that he has seen less damage to buildings that were deemed destroyed.

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17.

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