Athol Selectboard gets update on building inspections

  • Athol’s Selectboard was recently updated regarding the ongoing inspection of buildings in town. Left to right: Selectboard member Andy Sujdak, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski, Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera and Deputy Chief Jeff Parker. For the Athol Daily News/Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 8/12/2022 10:52:21 AM
Modified: 8/12/2022 10:49:06 AM

ATHOL — Athol Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera and Deputy Chief Jeff Parker appeared before the Aug. 9 meeting of the Selectboard to provide an update on the inspection of buildings around town, including businesses and vacant structures.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told the two men the board wanted an update on inspection efforts, particularly in light of the recent fire in Orange, which destroyed an old mill building, as well as the fire at an Athol casket factory on July 20.

“Due to — actually, prior to — recent events as well, (regarding) certain calls for service you may have been to,” he told Guarnera and Parker, “the board took an interest in ensuring that you’re getting the cooperation you need from private property owners in terms of buildings that may be dangerous to public safety or a fire hazard. They wanted to have an update, especially in view of the fire in Orange, and we had a scare here in Athol recently.

“I know that you’ve been active with the Building Department and the Health Department on these buildings, but I think it’s important for the public to know that we’re engaged when concerns are made to the board to provide assistance and support where needed.”

“This department,” Guarnera began, “is continually looking at the buildings — especially the larger buildings — in the community. Right now, we’re in the process of doing pre-fire planning on most of the larger targeted buildings.

“What that entails is going into the building to actually find out what the fire load is, the hazardous materials, where the electrical shutoff is, the gas shutoff. I will say most of the people, the great majority of the businesses allow us in with no problem. It’s going to benefit them because if we have to go there in an emergency we know where everything is. It’s better to know before you get there. Second of all, it keeps the firefighters safe.”

Some property owners, however, are less than cooperative, according to Guarnera.

“I will say that one particular business did not allow us to go into their building at one point. I told a particular captain to go back and ask again. At that point, he did make an appointment. It just so happened that that morning that the captain was to do the pre-fire planning, we had a fire in that building.

“If that casket factory had gone up, there wouldn’t have been people inside fighting that fire because we would have been fighting it from the outside. It’s a very, very dangerous building; highly combustible, great fire load.”

Guarnera lauded the firefighters that responded to that blaze at 339 Main St., site of Cambium Corporation.

“We did a great job — the firefighters that were there, as well as from surrounding communities,” he said.

“But, if you’re looking to see how it’s going to relate to something like (what happened) in Orange, that’s hard to say. We do everything we can with the assets we have, the availability of manpower and equipment, just like Orange did with their fire. Are we trained and equipped to fight that fire? Yes. But it all comes back to manpower and outside help, etcetera.”

The chief went on to say that through the fire prevention efforts of Deputy Chief Parker and Capt. Eric Jack, and with the help of the Building Department, efforts continue to ensure the safety of the community.

Parker told the board that each of the department’s four captains are assigned to keep up to date on specific buildings in Athol.

“It’s something that needs to be updated constantly,” he explained, “because things change, owners change. But, when we find something and we have concerns — with this particular building (339 Main St.) we had concerns prior to the fire — myself and the building inspector issue an order of notice with issues that need to be addressed, with code references and such. And it’s not just this building; we’re doing it all over town.

“We’re trying to prepare everybody, but it’s a process. It’s not going to happen overnight, and just as long as we know people are working toward making their buildings safe for their patrons and their customers and their employees — it’s something that we’re doing all the time.”

“Thank you very much for making sure you’re on top of that,” said board Vice Chair Rebecca Bialecki. “I do think if you run into a case where you’re giving violations and there’s no response from the owner, or he’s kicking the can down the road — he or she — feel free to come back to us.

“Our residents work in those buildings. So, we need to keep those people safe. If that means taking action against the owner, we need to do that,” she concluded.

Greg Vine can be reached at

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