Portland appoints task force to review fire code in wake of Noyes Street blaze

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PORTLAND — A Boston Fire Department deputy chief and two local landlords are part of the task force established to look into city fire codes and ordinances in the wake of a fatal Nov. 1 fire at 20-24 Noyes St.

Task force members were announced Friday, Nov. 21, by acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian.

Carlton Winslow, a board member of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, will be joined by Crandall Toothaker as a representatives for landlords. Joseph Fleming of the Boston Fire Department will provide technical assistance, City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said.

Hill-Christian said “Mr. Fleming has internationally recognized expertise when it comes to fire prevention methods and fire code standards and has first-hand experience in dealing with similar tragedies.”

The 11-member task force is largely made up of city officials, including acting Human Services Director Julie Sullivan, Planning Board Chairman Stuart O’Brien, Inspections Division Director Tammy Munson, Deputy Inspectors Jon Rioux and Rich Bianculli, and Deputy Fire Chief Keith Gautreau.

Portland Housing Authority inspector Julie Gregor and Kathryn McGovern, an attorney with Pine Tree Legal Assistance, represent the agency and tenants, respectively.

The cause of the Noyes Street fire remains under investigation by the state fire marshal’s Office, with assistance from the city and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

It was the deadliest city blaze in 51 years, claiming the lives of tenants David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay 26; and visitors Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland, Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson, 26, and Rockland resident Steven Summers, 29.

All but Summers were found dead at the scene in the second and third floors of the 20 Noyes St. side of the multi-family unit. The state medical examiner determined those who died at the scene were killed by smoke inhalation.

Summers died Nov. 4 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He escaped the fire by jumping out a second-floor window, but suffered severe burns, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland.

Grondin said the task force will begin meeting Wednesday, Dec. 3, with a goal of presenting initial findings in January 2015, and a final report for the City Council a month after that.

Neighbors speaking after the fire and in complaints to city officials dating to 2003 said the Noyes Street residence had been known for its parties and unsanitary conditions outside the home.

City officials released a log of 16 complaints state investigators are following, including complaints from Aug. 30, 2012, and Sept. 6, 2012, that owner Gregory Nisbet was violating zoning laws by allowing dwelling units on the third floor.

The property was taken in a foreclosure on July 1 by Bank of America, which sought more than $301,000 owed by Nisbet. He was given 150 days to pay the debt, according to records at the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds.

It was the second foreclosure sought on the property in two years by Bank of America.

City tax records list Nisbet as a resident of 124 Noyes St., a building he owns in addition to multi-family units at 183 and 186 Dartmouth St. The 183 Dartmouth St. home was also placed in foreclosure on June 2 by Green Tree Servicing of St. Paul, Minnesota, which sought to collect more than $341,000.

Bank of America also sought foreclosure on the 186 Dartmouth St. home in 2013.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.