Berlin Council Apologies To Town Fire Department

BERLIN – The Berlin Fire Department is due an apology, the Berlin Town Council concluded this week, over the long running attempts to perform a controlled burn on a deteriorated home on Railroad Ave.

“We have to mend some bridges with the fire company,” Council member Ellen Lang said.

Strained feelings apparently arose from the several years long attempt to burn the derelict house on Railroad Ave., which the Town Council blamed, incorrectly, on the Berlin Fire Department (BFD).

“They were unfairly blamed, I think, because we didn’t have all the facts,” Lang said.

The fire department, according to Lang, was “upset enough they said they’d never do another controlled burn.”

Fire department representatives could not be reached for an interview.

Mayor Tom Cardinale, on the other hand, said he had not heard any dissent from the BFD. His neighbor, a firefighter who is normally candid with him about department matters, has said nothing of the sort, according to Cardinale.

“That was new to me that night,” said Cardinale. “Ellen caught me off guard.        

The Berlin Town Council did not find out until late last month that a grant used to fund controlled burns of deteriorated buildings contains a provision restricting the sale of the property for two years following the burn, which may have affected the homeowner’s participation in the burn process.

“I think the case all along was [the owners] wanted to sell the property and that they couldn’t sell the property if it was burnt,” Lang said. 

The owner’s decision to seek a demolition permit recently began to raise doubts in the council’s minds over the cause of the continual delays.

“It’s like a lightbulb going on,” said Council member Paula Lynch. “I think we’ve been taken advantage of.”

Having a contractor tear the 77-year-old house down is costing the homeowner $9,000, compared to the no charge controlled burn, Lang said.

“The demolition has been started,” said Planning and Zoning Superintendent Stacey Weisner.

The homeowner, Beatrice Collick, has posed some obstacles to the burn. Once she signed the paperwork, Collick informed the town that the house contained some personal belongings that had to be removed before the burn could be conducted.  When the BFD offered to send cadets over to remove the items, Collick reportedly told the department that she had nowhere else to store those possessions.

Collick could not be reached for an interview.

The BFD sought a legal opinion on whether, given the signed permission, it could go forward with the controlled burn and was told it would not be wise.

According to town attorney Dave Gaskill, Berlin has the power to condemn buildings and then demolish them. 

“The property didn’t get the way it was overnight. Perhaps our code enforcement needs to get a little stricter then so properties don’t get to this place,” said Lang. “This property should have been written up for years.”

Twenty years ago, the town suffered from dozens of derelict properties, said Council Vice President Gee Williams. “We’re down to literally a handful,” he said. “We’re down to the hard cases.”

Lang said the town needs,” to apologize to the fire company for making them look bad.”

Cardinale said the fire department is welcome to meet with the council.

“I did write a letter of apology, apologizing for any misunderstanding and telling them the town has the utmost respect for them,” said Cardinale.