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Brookline Blaze Puts Renewed Emphasis on Fire Safety

LAW students relocated after apartments destroyed

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A four-alarm fire in Brookline left 10 School of Law students homeless Monday. The students have found shelter with help from BU and others.

While the cause remains under investigation, the blaze prompted University officials to remind students about fire safety precautions, as outlined on a University website. “The University’s interest is, let’s all be proactive,” says Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore. Especially for students living off-campus in non-University apartments, he says, “make sure you understand how to get in and out of the spaces where you live,” and be sure those spaces have working smoke detectors. (Fire officials recommend changing the batteries in smoke detectors every six months.)

The fire drove tenants from several apartment houses damaged by the fire, smoke, or water into the street and freezing temperatures. BU placed six of the students in “buffer spaces,” emergency lodging maintained by the University to house displaced people for up to two weeks. (Most of the students were put in Claflin Hall, says Dale Robbins, director of judicial affairs for the University.) Other students were placed by the Red Cross in the Brookline Holiday Inn, until they found shelter with friends, Robbins says.

Brookline Fire Department, four alarm fire Brookline, MA

The Brookline Fire Department was one of several responding to the four alarm blaze. Photo by Scott Eisen for

One report said the building at 1471 Beacon St., where the fire broke out, appeared “uninhabitable.” Elmore says that housing students in the buffer spaces is “pretty temporary,” and that the students have told him they hope to pin down permanent digs soon. As for some of them relocating permanently to BU-owned rooms, “we’re looking at that as a possibility,” says Elmore (SED’87).

“We got out with most of what we desperately want in this situation: health and life,” says Mark Eisen (LAW’12). He was out getting coffee Monday morning when his roommate called at 9:15 to tell him about the fire. “I stepped out of the coffee shop to see smoke billowing out,” says Eisen, who dashed back to find the building surrounded by fire trucks, with flames poking out of their apartment’s windows. Fortunately, he says, he had taken his wallet and a backpack with his laptop and papers, so those were spared. On Tuesday, when he was allowed into the apartment, he saw that the ceiling had partially collapsed; he nevertheless was able to salvage his passport, some pants and papers, and his baseball glove.

“BU has been great to us,” Eisen says, in helping to find emergency shelter.

The fire broke out at about 9 a.m. in the basement of 1471 Beacon, which is near Coolidge Corner. The LAW students’ apartments were spread out there and at two nearby apartment buildings. Firefighters from Boston, Brookline, and Newton, among others, responded, and it required two hours to contain the blaze. One woman went to the hospital for smoke inhalation, and four firefighters suffered minor injuries, according to officials.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan told the Boston Globe that the fire was big and intense enough to likely delay efforts to pinpoint a cause, but according to Brookline Fire Chief Paul Ford, the blaze began in an electrical closet. WBUR quoted one tenant who said the same building has had previous fires caused by such things as people smoking, but Monday’s inferno meant that “this time it was something really bad.”

four alarm fire 1471 Beacon St, Brookline, MA

The aftermath of the fire in the apartment where LAW student Mark Eisen and his roommates lived. Photo by Mark Eisen

BU’s safety website lists the University’s fire safety regulations and a list of questions to ask landlords if you’re renting an off-campus apartment. Among the site’s tips:

  • Avoid starting open flames, especially candles, which among college students are the top fire-starter
  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy
  • Plot escape routes in case of fire and keep them clear of debris
  • When an alarm sounds, take it seriously

For those interested in assisting residents displaced by the fire, a fund has been set up by the Brookline Municipal Credit Union and the town of Brookline. Tax-deductible donations can be made to the Beacon Street Fire Fund, c/o Brookline Municipal Credit Union, 334 Washington St., Brookline, MA 02447-0776.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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