Fire Chief Len Albanese had his contract renewed for another three years by City Manager Tom Ambrosino.
Albanese came to the City in 2016 from North Providence after a search committee chose several finalists, including some internal candidates. His contract was set to expire in June 2019, and Ambrosino said he is very pleased with the Chief’s work over the past two years.
“The chief and I began discussions about an extension, and we recently agreed on this new three-year term,” wrote Ambrosino. “I have been extremely satisfied with Chief Albanese’s leadership and management of the Fire Department since his arrival in 2016. I believe this extension is fully justified.”
Albanese, a resident of Charlestown, will get a pay increase of 3 percent in the first year of his contract. In the following two year, upon a review by Ambrosino, he is entitled to up to 3 percent each year as well.
The Chief will get 25 days of vacation per year, and can carry over five weeks of unused vacation time from one year to another. He may not, however, carry more than 10 week maximum of vacation time.
He also gets 15 sick days per the contract, as well as an automobile.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino has requested the Council to fund the demolition of the burnt-out home at 80 Warren Ave. that was the site of a domestic shooting incident and raging fire in May 22, 2017.
The home has sat in its burnt out condition for more than a year, mostly due to tie-ups in the court system due to a dispute by the owner and the insurance company. In that time, neighbors have had to see it as a reminder day in and day out of the chaos that ensued on that spring night.
Now, Ambrosino is asking for a supplemental appropriation from the Stabilization Fund in the amount of $25,000 to demolish the home. The owner, he said, doesn’t have the funds to tear down the home. So, the City will tear it down, secure it, and then seek to be reimbursed at a later date.
“I think it’s a great idea and long overdue,” said Councillor Leo Robinson, who lives on Warren Avenue. “I think it will mean a lot to the neighbors to not have to look at it every day and remember what happened there.”
On May 22, 2017, a man in the home shot at his 10-year-old daughter and wife, chasing them to a neighbor’s home where they sought shelter. After that, police were alerted and the man barricaded himself in the home. He then set a massive fire in the home and began shooting at police and firefighters. Police did shoot the man and the fire consumed the structure.
There was a massive police and fire presence at the scene.
The Council is expected to address the request on Monday, Sept. 24.
Saying he is disappointed with the Council’s posture toward the Fire Department during last week’s successful $100,000 budget cut to his department, Chief Len Albanese said the Council missed an opportunity to help bring the Department forward.
The Council, particularly Council President Damali Vidot, called for the cut and said the Fire Department overtime budget had requested an increase. She and others felt like that number – which in the past has been described as being abused – should be doing down.
Albanese said it wasn’t fair, and he said he Council hasn’t listened to his calls for an appropriate percentage of funding and more staffing.
“I’m disappointed with the cut that was made and the comments made by Council President Vidot,” he said. “This year we made budget. I told the Council that if they properly funded the Fire Department we would do our best to live within that range, and we delivered. We require no supplemental funding to finish the year.
“I have advocated for more staffing since my first month on the job,” he continued. “We have acquired both the staffing and apparatus to make that happen. Now, we need this additional staffing to translate into more boots on the ground daily. If the recent fire on John Street is not indication enough of that, I’m not sure what is. These major fires in our densely populated neighborhoods are a significant threat to our community. We need as much help as possible in the first 10 minutes of these fires to protect our neighborhoods.”
He said the John Street fire was one where they lucked out because had other calls been going, the staffing might not have been there to respond correctly.
“We are lucky that all of our apparatus was available at the time of that alarm and not tied up on other calls,” he said. “I assure you, the devastation would have been much worse. Twenty homeless could have been 100. We cannot count on luck. We need to be prepared with a reasonable amount of protection based on the threat that we face.”
In 2016, Albanese presented to the Council that the Fire Department budget is around 6.25 percent of the overall budget, and national standard indicate it should be between 6.5-7 percent based on the call volumes.
This year, they would be 6.25 percent and that represents less percentage-wise than in 2016.
“Our overall budget represents only 6.25 percent of the overall City Budget which is actually less percentage wise than we received in 2016,” he said. “Even when you consider that we will eventually take over the new hire salaries in full, we will still be between 6.5 and 6.75 percent of total budget, well within a reasonable and acceptable range.”
For his overtime request, he said he requested a 4 percent increase to the current year’s $1.25 million overtime budget. That, he said, is because salaries increased by 4 percent and so there would be less overtime coverage.
“It’s one thing to hold the line, but to cut our entire request, plus an additional $50,000 that we had this year makes no sense,” he said. “It’s like saying thanks but no thanks.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he believes the chief can make things work despite the cut.
“I was opposed to that cut,” he said. “I think the chief can make his overtime and salaries work. He has some open positions. There are three now…Hopefully he’ll make it and if he can’t, I’ll have to come to the council in the spring and ask for more money.”
Albanese said the cut won’t stop them from carrying out their plan, but it does no one any favors.
“The $100,000 cut will not keep us from continuing on our plan to increase daily staffing, but it doesn’t help,” he said. “With the amount of information we have provided the council, I think those members who voted to support this cut missed an opportunity to show their commitment to protecting our neighborhoods. The $100,000 is literally one-half of 1 percent of the City Budget, but it can translate into having an extra firefighter searching for a trapped occupant. To me, that’s money well spent.”
Following a six-alarm fire last Wednesday afternoon, May 2, on John Street – where two dwellings were a complete loss – Chief Leonard Albanese warned this week for residents to be extremely careful with activities on back porches – though he said the cause last week wasn’t yet determined.
Chelsea firefighters fighting the John Street blaze on May 2 with heavy smoke.
The fire last week originated on a second-floor, back porch of 10 John St.
“We haven’t determined the official cause yet,” he said. “We know it’s not arson, and it’s accidental. I want to emphasize that porch fires are a significant threat to our community and residents need to use extreme caution with the fire load on their decks, not smoking on their decks and not cooking on decks. No one is allowed to use a grill on any floor above the ground level.”
Chief Albanese said the firefighters and mutual aid partners did a great job with the fire on a day that was extremely busy in Greater Boston, as there was a fire in Cambridge and Somerville on the same day.
The fire came in on the afternoon of May 2, and it originated on the second-floor rear porch of 10 John St., a three-story multiple wood frame dwelling. Companies arrived with heavy fire conditions on all three rear porches at 10 John St., extending into the structure with fire threatening the immediate three-story exposures to the left (6 John St.) and right (12 John St.). The end result was the total loss of both 6 and 10 John St.; along with minor damage to 12 John St.
A large three-story, six-unit building at 68-70 Clark Ave. also sustained water damage. The home at 66 Clark Ave. sustained radiant heat damage only in the rear. Also, 56 Parker St. had exterior radiant heat damage only to the rear; and 50 Parker St. had a damaged fence from fire operations.
At 6 John St., 18 residents were displaced, and at 10 John St., 12 residents were displaced. Both structures were considered a total loss by fire officials.
The Red Cross provided immediate assistance to displaced residents.
There were no reported civilian injuries.
There were three immediately reported firefighter injuries, and all were treated and released. There were multiple other injuries sustained with the extreme conditions in which this fire was fought. All firefighters were exposed to smoke and products of combustion inhalation with an estimated three to five additional injuries being evaluated after the fire.
“The members of the Chelsea Fire Department along with our mutual aid partners engaged in a major fire operation under extreme conditions, which led to the containment of the fire to the loss of two structures only,” said the chief. “Without their valiant efforts, we could have lost several other structures further devastating the effected neighborhood. This was without a doubt a great job done by all.”
He also praised 9-1-1 dispatch for coordinating all six alarms.
“Additionally, Chelsea 911 did a great job allocating resources for the six alarms and guiding them to the scene,” he said. “This is difficult on a normal day, but Somerville had a multiple alarm fire that was tying up companies in the Metro Fire region at the same time, making this task a challenge.”
The Chelsea Fire Department announced this week that they have secured a major federal grant to pay for the hiring of eight new firefighters in this year’s budget – with Chief Len Albanese saying the new recruits could hit the streets by Thanksgiving.
The Homeland Security grant provides $1.4 million of federal funding over a three-year period, covering 75 percent of the salary and benefits for two years. The third year of the grant will cover 35 percent of the share of salaries and benefits.
In the fourth year of the grant, the City would be responsible for 100 percent of the costs associated with the new hires.
Albanese said that in the end, concerns about not getting the grant due to Chelsea’s Sanctuary City status did not factor into whether the City did or did not get the grant as the application was put in last year.
Overall, the big news is that the Fire Department will go over 100 members for the first time in decades.
The grant will put the contingent up to 102 member.
“We’ve had 92 members for quite a while,” said the chief. “Prior to my arrival and when I got here and that’s a situation I assume goes back to the 1990s – post-receivership. (Last year), we added two members to get up to 94 and with the intention to add more. With the SAFER grant now in place, we can add eight new members and that brings our staffing up to 102…Having 102 is what we consider to be a really good staffing level for the Fire Department.”
He said that Revere’s contingent is at 98 and Everett – which also has a SAFER grant- is at 111.
He said adding the new members won’t eliminate overtime, but he believes it will bring it down to a reasonable number – eliminating what has been many years of controversy surrounding overspending on overtime.
“The purpose is to not just decrease overtime,” he said. “There’s always overtime in a 24/7 business…This will control overtime and put boots on the ground. It will stabilize overtime and increase staffing.”
Already, Albanese said he has identified the eight recruits from Civil Service, having been confident of getting the grant and taking early action. That will mean they get in the Station very quickly.
“We have eight recruits identified and they preparing to attend the Brookline Fire Academy on Sept. 5,” he said. “That means if all goes well, we will have these additional firefighters on the street by Thanksgiving.”
Along with this grant and another recently received, the fire department has garnered $2 million of federal funding from the 2016 DHS/FEMA programs.
At 4:38 p.m. on May 19, Chelsea Fire received a call for a house fire at 127 Shurtleff St. Upon arrival, heavy fire was showing from the 3rd floor with exposure buildings in close proximity on each side. Deputy Chief Robert Houghton transmitted the working fire and struck the second alarm. Fire quickly spread to the 3rd floor porch and cockloft area.
Major flames erupted from this fire at a home on Shurtleff Street May 19.
Firefighters mounted and aggressive attack, and a third alarm was struck for additional manpower. Searches of the building were negative with occupants self-evacuating. There were no civilian injuries. Three fire fighters were injured battling the blaze, none of which were life threatening. Overall 16 occupants were displaced and being assisted by the Red Cross.
The fire was contained to the third floor of the structure of origin. None of the exposure buildings were affected. The cause of the fire was electrical. An air conditioning unit was being energized using several extension cords.
“Residents should be aware of the dangers associated with powering air condition units and appliances with extension cords. This creates an extreme fire hazard” said Chief Len Albanese. “Overloaded extension cords are the cause of many accidental fires that can be avoided using proper fire safety precautions.”
Firefighters, as shown below, had to keep low to the ground due to the active shooter and moved in to fight the fire under heavy protection by the SWAT teams. The incident was sparked allegedly by a domestic situation between Pastrana, his wife, and a young child.
It’s no secret that, at times, the quiet of a Chelsea night can be punctuated by the sound of gunfire.
But not on Warren Avenue, usually.
The calm of the hillside neighborhood below the Soldiers’ Home broke out into chaos just before 10 p.m. on Monday night, when a misty night gave way to hundreds of police and fire personnel, and one man who allegedly initiated the response with a domestic situation, perished after a lengthy standoff and raging fire.
Kelly Pastrana, 38, of 80 Warren Ave., was found dead around 2 a.m. on Tuesday inside the home after fire crews from all over the area had extinguished the raging inferno that Pastrana allegedly started while police negotiators tried to reach out to him.
That came after he had fired on police twice with a gun while holed up in his home.
District Attorney Dan Conley and Chief Brian Kyes promises a full and fair evaluation of the incident, and Conley said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that Pastrana had died of a gunshot wound to the abdomen. That seemed to indicate that police might have shot him during the exchange of gunfire between Pastrana and police on the second occasion that he allegedly fired upon them.
“The facts as we understand them strongly suggest that this was a case of domestic violence,” said Conley. “It escalated to an armed assault on the female victim, a young child, and responding police officers – two of whom, we believe, also discharged their firearms in the course of the event. After the initial domestic assaults, evidence suggests that Mr. Pastrana deliberately set a fire inside the home, where he was found dead early this morning. A short time ago, state pathologists ruled his death the result of a gunshot wound to the abdomen with thermal injuries from the fire.”
He said the case has been turned over to senior homicide prosecutors in his office. He also said that the case file would be turned over to Pastrana’s family, and then to the public.
“As with any death that involves police activity, senior homicide prosecutors from my office are leading the investigation to determine exactly what took place and whether criminal charges are warranted,” he said. “They will work with State Police detectives assigned to my office, with the assistance of specialized State Police units, the State Fire Marshal’s office, and Chelsea Police detectives. This is a standard procedural step and we have drawn no final conclusions at this early stage.”
A member of Pastrana’s family, Emanuel Santiago, of East Boston, was on the scene Tuesday.
He said Pastrana and his wife, who both lived on Warren Avenue since around 2015, moved from East Boston and were both rooted there. He said they had five children, one of whom was a star athlete at East Boston High School. He said Pastrana was a family man, and he asked for the family to be respected.
“He wasn’t a criminal or a troublemaker,” said Santiago. “He was a human being like we all are.”
Police were called to the scene around 9:18 p.m.
Just prior to that, Pastrana is alleged to have chased his wife and their youngest child out of the home. As they sought help nearby, he fired a weapon at them, but did not hit anyone.
As he proceeded back to his home, he encountered a responding officer and shot the gun at him.
That officer was originally reported to have been shot in the hand, but Chief Kyes said the officer had only cut his hand while diving out of the way of the discharged bullets.
Pastrana is then alleged to have gone into the home and fired bullets out the front window at police.
A short time later, after a huge response to the home from police in Revere, Everett, Boston, Lynn and even Salem, Pastrana came out the basement door in the back of the home and fired again on police who were trying to set up a perimeter around the home.
The neighborhood began to erupt into chaos after that.
Police went door to door and evacuated people from their homes, with many running from their homes in terror and fleeing to a nearby church until around 3 a.m.
Council President Leo Robinson, who lives on Warren Avenue, said he heard gunshots and then everything went south.
“I was at home after the Council meeting and then heard the ‘boom-boom’ of the gunshots,” he said. “A few minutes later the cops were banging on the door and telling us to leave. We had to go down the street, and a bunch of people went to the church. It was crazy.”
Things got much more problematic, however, when police began to notice smoke coming out of the home. Officers at the scene on the radio began reporting that the area was “really smoking up.”
The problem, however, was that it was too dangerous with an active shooter to allow firefighters to move in to fight the growing blaze. Soon enough, the entire house had been engulfed and flames stretched high into the air.
Once they believed that no one was alive inside due to the fire, fire crews from all over Greater Boston moved in under ‘forced protection’ of the large SWAT team presence.
Chief Len Albanese said it was a defensive fight, trying to make sure the fire didn’t spread to any other homes.
“It was too dangerous to put firefighters in the way of that,” he said. “We let the building burn unit we were quite certain no one could survive and then we moved in. It was a defensive fight, focusing on that building only and making sure it didn’t spread.”
The fire was extinguished about 2 a.m. and investigators moved in, finding Pastrana deceased inside.
Kyes said Pastrana did not have an extensive record. He had an arrest in Chelsea in 2004 for an assault, some motor vehicle violations in 2006 and an arrest in 2009 in Lynn for an assault and battery. Other than that, he wasn’t really on the police radar screen.
One of the keys to the evening for law enforcement was how the multiple agencies, including police, fire, SWAT and dispatch, worked together seamlessly.
Kyes said it was incredible the way agencies worked and cooperated to handle the incident.
Said Albanese, “Police and Fire worked well together. We’ve adapted our policy under the latest Department of Homeland Security guiltiness and it proved effective. The incredible response when as good as we could have expected.”
Carrying the fire helmet of late Firefighter Peter Kannler, Firefighter Janine Romano led the procession of firefighters and police officers to Woodlawn Cemetery.
The death of Chelsea Firefighter Peter Kannler, which happened way too fast and way too young, while on active duty and from a cancer that is recognized to be a result of his work as a firefighter, has been a wake up call for the Chelsea Fire Department – as union leaders and management leaders in the Department are calling for a change in the way the job is done nationwide.
Kannler, 37, who left two young children and a wife, fought a battle with stomach and esophageal and liver cancer for about one year before passing away on Saturday, Sept. 3. Before his death though, firefighters in Chelsea said he participated in research studies to help prevent ‘active duty’ firefighter deaths from cancer, and like in his life, he wasn’t quiet about what was happening to him.
“He wanted people to know about his cancer and the way it’s affecting our firefighters in Chelsea and beyond,” said Lt. Brian Capistran, president of the local union. “He wanted to prevent as many as possible, no matter what age or gender, from dying of this disease. The way we’re going to honor Peter is our members are going to take a careful look at our operations. Our safety is going to come first. We are going to make a point of decontaminating our equipment after a fire. The days of the macho old firefighter coming out of a burning building covered in soot are over. We have to think differently. A house fire nowadays is a hazardous material situation.
“Pete is going to be missed,” he continued. “I greatly respected him. He and I were built the same way – telling it like it is and dealing with things later. It’s going to take a while for all of us to get over this.”
Added Firefighter Dave Asci, who served for years on Engine 2 with Kannler, “He really put himself out there to do those studies. It was important to him that people know what firefighters are risking.”
Remembering Kannler has brought on a lot of great memories in the firehouse, especially on Engine 2 – likely the busiest engine in the nation per capita, where Kannler worked. He wore a mohawk all the time and was covered with tattoos, including a tattoo of a mustache on his finger that he used to hold on his upper lip – another example of his constant practical joking nature.
He was famous for elaborate practical jokes, including wallpapering the mechanic’s office and repair manuals one night with hundreds of pictures of Justin Bieber.
Asci said Kannler was the type of firefighter that didn’t seek the spotlight and shunned away from commendations or awards, but certainly was a guy you wanted next to you in a dangerous situation. Beyond that, Asci said that despite Kannler’s rough look and “tell it like it is at all costs” personality, he was a caring man – a family man – who was ready to drop everything for his wife and kids and brothers in the fire service.
“I had a rough year last year and in the middle of it, as sick as Peter was, before I could tell him fully what was happening, he wanted to know what he could do to help me,” said Asci. “He was so sick and he just wanted to help other people. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
But there was a serious firefighter side to Kannler as well, and as an instructor at the Mass Fire Academy and a firefighter with great interest in getting equipment and training from Homeland Security, Kannler brought Chelsea Fire into a new era by advocating for resources the Department had never concentrated on. He attended numerous regional meetings and was responsible for securing grants for safety equipment and training.
With that spirit, Deputy Chief John Quatieri and Chief Leonard Albanese have pledged to change their operations and the culture within the firehouse – particularly around safety and decontaminating equipment upon returning from an incident.
“From a command perspective, we need to rotate our firefighters in and out more often and be thinking about their safety,” said Quatieri. “We can’t leave them in a burning building as long as we’ve been doing. They’re getting beat up and exposed to too many of the carcinogens in a modern house fire. We’ve been making do too long and that needs to change.”
Already, the Department has invested in four hydrogen cyanide meters to measure air quality inside a fire, and they will have one member of the crew responsible for monitoring those meters during a fire. If conditions inside are toxic enough, they will remove firefighters from those dangerous conditions – something that many departments are not yet thinking about.
“It’s affecting every department,” said Quatieri. “You just don’t hear about it as much. When firefighters die in a fire, that gets a lot of publicity, as it should, but with the cancer, it happens every day and doesn’t get much publicity.”
Capistran said firefighters are 60 percent more at risk for certain cancers like Kannler had than the normal civilian. That is a little known fact outside the fire service, but even within the fire service the reality of that has been slow to sink in as old habits die hard.
Chief Albanese shared statistics about firefighter deaths, noting that, since 2000, a majority of firefighter deaths have been due to occupational cancers. In 2014, nationwide, nearly 70 percent of deaths were due to those types of cancers rather than direct firefighting work.
“Today’s fire, a lot of what burns is plastics and foams and flame retardants,” said Capistran. “It burns faster and hotter and it’s a silent killer. A lot of what burned back in the day, when firefighters like my dad were on, was wood. We may not have as many fires as back then, but these fires are deadlier and the conditions are more toxic.”
All four Chelsea Fire members said they plan to take Kannler’s message not only to their own crews, but also to the departments around them and those as far as their message can reach.
“Pete left enough information to help the researchers find a cure,” said Capistran. “His message was that he wanted to protect us more, to smarten us up, prevent exposure, decontaminate our gear and, importantly, he wanted it to be a wake up call for everyone.”
On Saturday July 2nd at 2:10 pm Chelsea Fire Fighters responded to Box 236 located at the Elderly Housing Development at Sixth and Walnut Streets.
Upon arrival crews from E2 and T1 under the command of Deputy John Quatieri reported a heavy smoke condition on floor 2 but were hampered in locating the source of the fire. After forcing entry to several apartments crews located a kitchen fire and advanced a 1 ¾ attack line to attack the fire. As smoke poured through the building several residents began to appear at their windows to escape the heavy smoke before a primary search could be conducted. Deputy Quatieri immediately ordered the Working Fire and crews from E1 and L2 were directed to the first and second floors to conduct a primary and secondary search and evacuate trapped residents while E3 stood by as the Rapid Intervention Company.
At the height of the fire FF Robert Delaney of E1 conducting a search for occupants rescued a Chiahuahua from a smoke filled second floor apartment. A resident that was also rescued by Fire Fighters and suffering from smoke inhalation refused medical treatment.
The fire which was confined to a kitchen on the second floor of 38 Sixth Street was brought under control in about 20 minutes and tenants were allowed to re-enter their apartments.
Chelsea Housing responded to the scene to clean up the affected areas.
Chelsea Fire Prevention is investigating the cause of the fire.
Chelsea Firefighters responded to a fire at the Elderly Housing Development at Sixth and Walnut Streets.
City Councillors will be debating a spending request from City Manager Tom Ambrosino in the coming weeks that calls for an additional $600,000 in fire overtime funds to be expended from the City’s Free Cash account.
The Budget last year already included $900,000 for overtime, in what was controversial at the time, and together, fire overtime in this year’s budget would total out to be $1.5 million.
That comes on top of state overtime money for the Silver Line project that funded a fourth engine company at an expense of $1.372 million – all of which was state money approved within the Silver Line project.
Another controversial expenditure that will likely be brought up again is the ‘Out of Grade’ pay, which went over budge by $80,000. Out of grade pay results when an injury occurs to a superior officer and a subordinate officer has to step into the higher rank position, which results in a higher pay grade. Chelsea has routinely had several superior fire officers go out on injury and several step-ups to fill the higher position.
A third piece that is drawing attention from the Fire Department is the uncollectible fire details, which is at $105,116. Fire details sometimes are hired or required, and there are times when the property owner(s) do not pay the bill. The City routinely pays the firefighters and then absorbs the cost of the uncollected detail bills. This year, the fire portion came in at more than $100,000.
“My concerns within the Budget process and then now with deficit accounts are these three areas,” said Councillor Leo Robinson. “I am concerned about fire overtime, about out of grade pay and about the uncollected details. We need to spend wisely. This was supposed to be better tracked and fixed last year when we had the same problems.”