At approximately 4:00 a.m., on July 4, 1984, a fire in a three story, unsprinklered, wood-frame
structure in downtown Beverly, Massachusetts, used as a boarding house on its two upper floors, resulted in the death of 15 residents and injury to 9 others.
A total of 36 residents, including seven former mental patients, occupied the 17 second-floor and 18 third-floor guest rooms that opened onto two centrally located exit access corridors, one on each floor. There was a single open stairway serving one end of the corridors and an exterior fire escape serving the other end. The ground floor of the 48 foot by 97 foot building was occupied by several commercial establishments.
The residential portion of the building was equipped with a combination corridor smoke detection and guest room heat detection system. Activation of a detector would sound an alarm horn on each level of the building. The system was not designed to notify the fire department automatically.
Investigators from the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal's Office determined that the fire was incendiary in nature. Once ignited, the fire spread quickly, involving the 3/16-inch wood paneling interior finish in the stairway and the exit access corridor. Heat and smoke easily penetrated the upper levels of the building through the open stairway. The fire spread rapidly throughout the remainder of the residential floors of the building. Fire fighters, assisted by the police, rescued approximately nine guests over ground ladders from the building.
The significant factors contributing to the loss of life in this incident are considered to be:
• the nature of the ignition scenario,
• the open stairway,
• the combustibility of the interior finish,
• a delay in notifying the fire department.
To see the Full NFPA Fire Investigation report.
For statistical information NFPA's Structure Fires in Residential Board and Care Facilities