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    Exclamation Danvers firefighter extinguish fire in extremely unstable building.

    Firefighters extinguish 'campfire' at former state hospital
    By Jill Harmacinski
    Staff writer


    DANVERS Firefighters went inside shuttered Danvers State Hospital again this weekend to extinguish what appeared to be a "campfire" left unattended in an auditorium on the dangerously dilipidated property.

    The blaze, discovered at midnight Sunday, was knocked down in 15 minutes and no one was injured. But Danvers Fire Capt. Douglas Conrad said he fears it's just a matter of time before firefighters encounter a major fire on the former psychiatric hospital property, a haven for fright-seekers and those hoping to admire its 19th-century Gothic architecture.

    "It's a big sprawling area," he said. "There's no way they can stop people from getting in there."

    The fire discovered Saturday was located about 50 feet away from an entrance. Empty beer bottles, trash and graffiti surrounded the blaze at the state-owned property.

    "It looked just like someone was having a campfire," he said.

    A similar fire was discovered on the hospital property late last September. Conrad said he "definitely" thinks both blazes were "suspicious in nature," intentionally set by people trespassing on hospital property.

    "If nobody was in there, there would be no fire," he said, noting electricity to the building was cut long ago.

    Two security guards were on the hospital property, which sits at the junction of Routes 1 and 62, but they are not allowed to enter any of the hospital buildings, Conrad said.

    "It was really the same as the last fire ... . People were inside there doing their thing, walking around," Conrad said.

    Officials long ago warned conditions inside the hospital property, closed in the early 1990s, are treacherous. Ceilings have collapsed and floors have gaping holes, said Conrad. The flagship structure on the property, the Kirkbride building, measures a half-mile long.

    As firefighters walked inside the hospital this weekend, they quickly discovered every surface was coated with ice.

    "It was like a skating rink inside. Snow gets into the building and then it freezes over," Conrad said.

    The area where the fire was set was on a hardwood floor, buckled in many areas by water, snow and ice.

    The fire remains under investigation by Danvers Fire Lt. David Deluca.

    Developer Avalon Bay wants to buy the old hospital from the state and convert it to a multimillion dollar housing complex, Avalon at Hathorne Hill. The company is currently trying to acquire the proper permits before paying $18.1 million for the property.

    Staff reporter Jill Harmacinski can be reached at (978) 338-2652 or by email at JHarmacinski@ecnnews.com.
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    Photos of the building

    This is a good site to see what is there.
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    Very interesting web site. That is some stunning architecture, it is a shame to have to tear the place down. Converting it as built to condos would seem like a beautiful preservation of the buildings, but I am certain that in the real and practical world it just needs to be torn down. Sad, but that's life.

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    That's like the state hospital (insane asylum) that the search and rescue team that I'm joining trains in. The hospital is still in operation, but half of the buildings are closed and slowly falling apart. One of these buildings is our designated training building. The structural stability is still there, but the plaster ceilings are crumbling and everything, and before every training night a few brave souls (aka, the ones who get there first) have to search both floors for any intruders. A few months ago one woman who was going up to the second floor to hide for a search heard someone running down the halls, but we couldn't find anyone. The place is fun to explore though (especially the tunnels that interconnect and can lead you all over the grounds) once you're comfortable with the place that is...Oh, and we're pretty sure it's haunted, lol...

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    Wow, that is some fantastic piece of arcitecture. To bad some one couldn't afford to bring it back to days gone by and use it for some good. To bad someone is bent on burning it down.

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    It's a shame building like that aren't used........
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    That place looks like a deathtrap....

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    Originally posted by LACAPT
    Wow, that is some fantastic piece of arcitecture. To bad some one couldn't afford to bring it back to days gone by and use it for some good. To bad someone is bent on burning it down.
    My thoughts exactly.

    Fantastic building. What a shame
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    I don't know the circumstances but it's a shame it was allowed to get into this condition. I agree with SAFD, looks like a deathtrap waiting to happen.
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    That place is sinister-looking. A couple of years ago, I went to the Worcester Safety and Survival seminar, and some of the hands on training classes were held at the Worcester State Hospital, or some such place. Same deal, place was creepy looking. We have a couple of places like that near me. Newtown has one, which is closed, and there is one in Meriden, the Altobello Center, where we did some training last year with CT-TF-1. I did a search of the web, and that place is supposedly haunted as well. That place gave me the willys. One question...What the hell happened to all the people who were housed in these places?
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    Originally posted by lieutleroy140
    One question...What the hell happened to all the people who were housed in these places?
    Not to be a smart-***** but you can go to the center or downtown area of any city and you'll find some of them living on the street.

    I can't imagine that a condo development in a former insane asylum would be real successful.
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    Looks about like one that we have here, maybe an hour or so away from me...I am not sure how much of a safety issue the building is anymore...last I remember hearing about it was a few years ago, a police department got some bad press because several officers were playing "war games" in the building and had paint balled the place up pretty good.


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    Default hmmmm

    weird thing, my chief and that of our mutual aid company were discussing the exact same topic.

    we have a building (actually several) in our first due area that are abandoned. Fire prevention has state that years ago, they had holes in the floors, walls missing, not structurally sound, and as such, not sutable for living in. and they were condemned.

    fast forward to the present, and what do you have? people have taken up "residence" in the building, either on the main floor or the basement. a roof over their head, maybe a fire to keep warm.

    now, if you get a call for smoke coming from one of these building, are you going to go in an investigate? are you going to search for the occupants who may be overcome? are you going to stretch a hoseline in to put out the burning the fire inside the 55 gallon drum (if that's all that is causing the smoke)?
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    The other fire they were talking about was far more significant. From what I heard it was rather large and on the uper floors.

    When I was an explorer in Danvers they had a policy of no entry.
    The devloping company has only agreed to save the middle portion.

    To me sending firefighters into a building that is going to be torn down in a few months, has missing floors,collpasing cielings, no lights, no sprinklers sounds like another W6 brewing.

    But thats just my opinion.
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    One question...What the hell happened to all the people who were housed in these places
    When the state hospital started shutting down its residence were placed into section 8 houseing,slum lords " took" these people in and crammed them into tenaments and illegal apartments.

    A mentally disturbed man haveing a fight with his girl friend lit a bundle of new papers in a door way late one night in the summer in one such tenament in downtown Beverly. 15 people died as a result of the state hospital closeing because they were not in a protected, secure facilty.


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    That place looks like a deathtrap....
    I don't know what the inside conditons are however I'd much rather fight a fire in that building which I'm sure used Masonry and dementional lumber vs. the brand-new light weight, c-joist, open web bar joist, engineered trussed, fiber board nonsense they build these days.

    It is a shame a building with such thought and care, such design should fall apart so slowly and undignified.

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    I'm with you, Fred...... Depends on what condition the innards are in.......

    It's probably a maze, too.......... Don't forget tag lines.......
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    Danvers State Hospital was finally closed in 1984 in keeping with what was the psychiatric fad at time. That fad was deinstitutionalization, coupled with shrinking state budgets for such hospitals across the US. Most of the people in these places were turned out on the street with nothing. Honestly, which was worse? Being turned out on to the street, or living in overcrowded, poorly funded, understaffed hospitals that were falling apart?

    Danvers State has sat idle since 1984 along with Worcester State, Foxboro State, Taunton State, North Grafton and a whole slew of hospitals in Massachusetts.

    There are a who slew of websites documenting the insides of these grand old places. These buildings exude bad feelings. Read up on the last days of these places and it will send a chill through your bones. I worked in human services in New York State in the early 1990's and when training to work with mentally handicapped adults, we were required to watch several documentaries on conditions in places like these. Not a pleasant experience, folks.

    I think Danvers really captures the imagination of anyone who gets close to it. There is something very alive about the complex, something very lonely. For a good old fashioned dread movie, see if you can find a little-known independent movie called "Session 9" starring David Caruso. That movie was filmed entirely in Danvers State in 2002-2003.

    Massachusetts isn't the only place to have these old asylums... Connecticut has its share. Over in Pennsylvania, a demolition engineer was checking out a building slated for destruction and fell 3 stories to his death in Byberry State Hospital outside of Philadelphia. These places are EVERYWHERE and most will not be demolished either to environmental of financial factors; I.e.- the places are so contaminated by asbestos and pcbs, destroying the place will be more costly than to let it sit and moulder away. OR, a municipality cannot AFFORD to demolish a site. Case in point of this is across the Canadian border in Lachine just outside of Montreal.

    The Jenkins Valve site, used as a toxic waste site by Crane Plumbing, was so contaminated by toxic materials, the site actually had negative property value! It sat idle since the early/mid-1990's as no one knew what to do with it. The city of Lachine couldn't afford the clean-up AND demoltion and the government of Canada was unwilling to help. It was only in the summer of 2004, that demolition work finally began on it. A private consortium purchased the property. And this site was far more hazardous than an abandoned asylum... PCBS and god knows what else littered the place. Deep pits filled with rusty mystery crap littered the site. Yikes!

    Anyways, just thought you'd be interested.
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    Danvers State Hospital: Security a concern after fire
    By Melissa Beecher
    Staff writer


    DANVERS After responding to the second fire in five months at Danvers State Hospital, public safety officials are again raising concerns and offering a chilling premonition about the abandoned property.

    "I've been saying it for 10 years, it's only a matter of time for that place," Fire Chief James Tutko said yesterday. "It's just a horrendous area. And the time is coming that we're not going to send our guys in because it'll be too dangerous."

    The small campfire, discovered early Sunday morning, was confined to the first-floor auditorium of the Kirkbride Building and was extinguished in 15 minutes.

    It is the second time since September firefighters have entered the dilapidated structures off Route 62: The first fire was on the third floor and started with a pile of old patient records, fire officials said.

    Both fires were arson, Tutko said, and both raise major concerns.

    "You only need to think about the Worcester fire (in 1999) to see what can happen with abandoned buildings," Tutko said. "And we're not going to have a Worcester-type fire here. If it's a big fire, then my men will not go in. Period."

    Closed in 1992, the state hospital buildings have fallen into dangerous disrepair. Ceilings have collapsed, and floors have gaping holes calling into question the buildings' structural integrity.

    Two guards are posted on the state-owned site 24 hours a day in an attempt to keep intruders out. But with a sprawling 130-year-old facility that totals more than 300,000 square feet across 77 acres, the job is just too large for two people, local officials said.

    "I'm not sure if you increased the (number of) guards patrolling that you'd be able to stop people from getting in there," Tutko said. "It's a huge site and if people want to get in and cause trouble, they're going to get in and cause trouble."

    One of those guards sat at the entrance of Hathorne Avenue yesterday and declined to provide any information about the fire. He was preventing vehicle access to the site, he said.

    Police Chief Neil Ouellette has forbidden any police officer from setting foot into the abandoned buildings, citing safety concerns for the officers.

    "They have been instructed to not go into those buildings under any circumstances. They are not trained to respond to that kind of situation," Ouellette said.

    But Danvers State continues to be a favorite site among "urban explorers." Various groups, who explore abandoned and dilapidated buildings, enjoy taking pictures and posting them on the Internet. Homeless people and drug users have also been known to use the abandoned hospital as a shelter, police said.

    "It's a hard place to patrol, but we do make our presence known," said Ouellette, who noted officers drive around the paved section of the hospital several times a day. "But until those buildings are knocked down, it's going to continue to be a problem no matter how many people patrol that area."

    Present and future owners respond

    Martha McMahon, spokeswoman for the state's Division of Capital Management who owns the site said changes will be made.

    "In light of recent events, we are in the process of evaluating security there," McMahon said.

    That was the same thing state spokesman Kevin Flanigan said five months ago. McMahon said yesterday that she did not know if security has increased since September.

    Avalon Bay, a company planning to transform Danvers State into a 485-home development, is also concerned about the incidents. Avalon Bay will purchase the site for about $18 million within the next year after acquiring the proper permitting from the state and local boards.

    Although he was unavailable for comment this week, Scott Dale, vice president of Avalon Bay, has said in no uncertain terms that the hospital is a hazard.

    "Every day that goes by, the risk that something may happen increases," said Dale at a Planning Board meeting in November. "As soon as we take control of the building, we will have security on the premises 24-7. It is a huge liability, both the way it currently stands and through the demolition and construction phases."

    Tutko said an anonymous caller who alerted firefighters of the blaze was most likely inside the building at the time of the call.

    "It was someone who knew what was happening, most likely someone inside that knew what could happen," Tutko said. "Thankfully, we were able to stop it before something major happened. But make no mistake about it, something major is going to happen. That's just a matter of time."
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