Mass. fire chief had warned officials about migrant safety before hotel fire
Sutton Fire Department Chief Matthew Belsito had warned state officials earlier about the the lack of fire safety in the hotel
By Chris Van Buskirk
SUTTON, Mass. — A fire broke out late Wednesday morning at an emergency shelter site in Sutton serving displaced and migrant families, prompting first responders to evaluate several people for smoke inhalation injuries, including members of the Massachusetts National Guard.
Local officials, including the fire chief and two state lawmakers, raised concerns last week and at the end of August about the safety of families staying at the hotel. Healey administration officials have said the severity of an emergency shelter crisis and state law requires them to quickly procure temporary housing for local homeless and migrant families.
The Sutton Fire Department received a call just before noon for a fire at the Red Roof Inn, which began “in the area of a stove in a hotel staff area,” according to the state Department of Fire Services.
State Sen. Ryan Fattman and other town officials were on their way to the hotel to greet National Guard troops who were arriving for their deployment as part of an up to six month activation to serve shelters without contracted service providers.
But as Fattman walked down the driveway of the hotel, he said he saw smoke coming out of an upper story window and a National Guard service member “hanging out” out of the second floor.
“I thought it was a fireman that was trying to get in but it was a National Guardsman dropping down and like literally hanging in there,” Fattman told the Herald. “What happened was somebody, I don’t know who it was, literally pulled out, it was a white Mercedes, it pulled right underneath him so that he could drop down on top of it, not get hurt, and then sort of roll off.”
The Department of Fire Services said “several people” were evaluated for smoke inhalation injuries, including multiple National Guard personnel who assisted at the scene and a Sutton municipal employee. One Guard member was offered transport for medical care but declined, according to the state.
The Massachusetts National Guard confirmed members were at the hotel, evaluated on site as a precaution, and suffered no injuries.
One hotel employee was transported to a nearby hospital for observation and is expected to recover and no hotel guests were injured, according to the state fire department.
The fire was contained to the room of origin, which was not housing guests, the state said. Two other rooms were affected and all will be ventilated and could be reoccupied later Wednesday, according to the state fire department. The exact cause of the fire is under investigation.
Local fire officials have previously raised concerns about their ability to respond to an emergency at the Sutton hotel.
In an email to state officials, Sutton Fire Department Chief Matthew Belsito said a fire at the hotel would likely require the assistance of every department in the fire district and potentially even bordering districts.
“One would think that the state would only use hotel/motels that are sprinkled and have fully addressable alarm systems monitored 24/7, especially with a language barrier,” Belsito wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Herald. “However I guess safety is not a priority here??”
A Healey spokesperson previously said 28 families were placed at the hotel in Sutton starting on Aug. 27. Town officials were notified of the placement several days earlier, according to the Healey administration.
Department of Public Health “rapid response team nurses” often visit shelter sites within the first few days that families are placed at a site to triage any urgent health issues, according to the Healey administration.
“Families come to the state seeking shelters at all hours of the day and often into the evening seven days a week,” Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand said in a statement last week. “It is of upmost importance that families are provided with shelter as soon as possible and, while we work hard to provide local officials with notification of placements within their communities, sometimes notification occurs just before or after families have been sheltered.”
The hotel’s multi-line telephone system, which allows first responders to pinpoint the location of a 911 call, was out of compliance with state regulations, according to a June 6 letter from the Executive Office of Public Safety to the owner of the hotel.
That system remained out of compliance as of Sept. 6, according to a letter Fattman and Rep. Joseph McKenna wrote to Gov. Maura Healey last week that outlined concerns with the placement of migrants at the hotel.
The situation that played out Wednesday was like a “horrible movie,” Fattman told the Herald by phone Wednesday afternoon.
“The Healy administration has placed people in jeopardy by putting people in this hotel and not doing due diligence on the public safety background,” Fattman said. “Now you have a National Guard team that gets sent in there and they’ve been put in jeopardy.”