Wednesday, October 17th, 2018

Finding meaning from grief: My plea to Portlanders this season

Posted on October 06, 2015 in Letter to the Editor, Perspectives
By USM Free Press

In response to overwhelming tragedy often comes widespread push for reform— as those in mourning search desperately for resolution in their grief. Just shy of the one year anniversary of the Noyes Street fire that claimed the lives of six young people, loved ones of those who perished can— hopefully, breathe deeply knowing that a lesson has been learned here.

As more aggressive enforcement and changes in accountability aim to prevent another fatal fire, Portland fire inspectors and city attorneys are issuing court summonses while threatening to impose fines on landlords who fail to correct safety violations. As we enter this fall season, I beg of my community: NOT to be like Gregory Nisbet.

By all accounts, Nisbet was about as laid-back a landlord as they come. Known for flexibility in collecting overdue rent, he paid little mind to his units— even renting to tenants without contracts. At the expense of mindfulness to safety came this laid-back management approach that he was not only well-known for, but also well-liked for. I re-iterate: we must never value laxity of oversight at the expense of safety.  

Though he will almost definitely never manage property again, Gregory Nisbet can teach us all a valuable lesson. He stands accused of reckless neglect in his failure to maintain the Noyes Street property and faces criminal charges ranging from code violations to six counts of manslaughter. Though the cause of the fire was ruled accidental, state fire officials say fatalities were likely caused by safety violations. Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria stated the cause of the blaze was an improperly discarded cigarette which ignited the plastic receptacle into which it was tossed, creating the blaze that eventually engulfed the entire structure.

The most common cause of fire deaths in the United States is improperly  discarded smoking materials. Whether or not you believe a barely lit cigarette is likely to ignite plastic or other material, it is. We found out the hard way.

Let us not forget that had the same cigarette been discarded the same way, functioning smoke alarms would have alerted those inside to the fire. Would have. This is a two-step process of resolution: responsibility and accountability. We must take responsibility for our obligation to safety and hold accountable those who do not. The consequences of Nisbet’s neglect puts the blood of these six people on his hands. Properly disposing of cigarettes is a practice all smokers should be in the habit of, and provided a functioning smoke detector maybe this wouldn’t have happened. We will never know.

Assistant Fire Chief Keith Gautreau had it right when he said in regards to enforcement: “We have to be consistent.” We have to be consistent in our responsibility to ensure the safety of all by properly disposing cigarettes. We have to be consistent in holding accountable landlords who neglect to maintain their properties and correct code violations. We have to be RELENTLESS in our efforts to prevent this tragedy from occurring ever again.

I would not wish this kind of heartbreak on my worst enemy: it is nothing short of unbearable. No one should know what we know now: how it feels to lose a loved one, forever, to something completely and utterly preventable.

By Abigail H. Tormey


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