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Former Groton Resident Dies In Fatal Pepperell House Fire

by Russell Harris
  A 69-year-old disabled woman who spent much of her youth living on Willowdale Road in Groton, died in a July 30 fire at 50 Main Street, Pepperell in her first-floor apartment. 
      The fire began in the first floor living room near the woman’s chair. Two possible, accidental causes were identified by fire inspectors: a burning candle having ignited nearby combustible items or the malfunction of a power strip with several items plugged into it. Damages to the six-unit building are estimated at more than $300,000.
      State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “We often see older people surround their favorite chair or recliner with the things they need. It is important not to overload power strips and to keep furniture off the cords. We encourage safety around candles and any open flame especially where people may have difficulty escaping a fire.”
    Commenting on lessons to be learned from the fatal fire, Groton Fire Chief Steele McCurdy said,  “People over 55 are notably more susceptible to fire injuries and fire deaths. We have seen several fires in recent years in Groton involving citizens in that age group. Of those fires, we, unfortunately, experienced two fatalities and one serious injury in Groton and also several other fatal fires in neighboring communities.”
    Statistics show that adults age 65 and above accounted for 14% of the population, but 29% of the fire deaths in 2016, being two and a half times as likely to die in a fire.
   A recent study recommends that communities should consider evaluating and addressing home fire risks for occupants based on age. The study found that frailty in the elderly hinders their ability to escape and should be recognized as a key factor in home fire deaths. 
    The study goes on to suggest that measures to prevent this population-specific vulnerability, such as automatic sprinklers in bedrooms, may help reduce the number of fatalities.
  The first and best defense against fire fatalities is smoke detectors. Chief McCurdy said, “One of the simplest and quickest ways to protect ourselves from fires is the use of smoke alarms; making sure that smoke alarms are under 10 years old and in working order is extremely important for survivability of a fire.”
    But once smoke detectors are in place, special risks remain for the elderly. State Fire Marshal Ostroskey noted that the Pepperell apartment building at 50 Main Street had working smoke alarms and added,  “While the home was not required to have fire sprinklers, this is a case where they might have prevented a terrible tragedy.”
   Groton Chief McCurdy said that making sure smoke alarms are less than 10 years old and in working order is extremely important in fire survivability. Senior citizens in Groton and many communities in Massachusetts are eligible for the Senior SAFE Program. This program allows firefighters the resources to help place smoke alarms in homes that may have outdated alarms or none at all. In addition to the ability to install working smoke alarms, this program allows firefighters an opportunity to review evacuation procedures, answer safety questions and help identify hazards that may exist in the home. In order to access this program, Groton Seniors can contact the Fire Department at 978-448-6333.
      T   Four firefighters suffered minor injuries. Mutual aid ambulances and fire suppression was received from 13 communities: Ashby, Ayer, Brookline (NH), Devens, Dunstable, Groton, Hollis (NH), Littleton, Lunenburg, Nashua (NH), Shirley, Tyngsborough, and Westford.
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