Welder at Back Bay fire cited before for no permit

Officials refuse to release records, cite criminal probe

A Malden welding company being sued for failing to obtain a city permit for work that spawned a fatal, nine-alarm Back Bay fire in March has apparently operated before without a permit, a practice not that unusual in the welding industry.

Fire officials investigating the Back Bay fire say a company was performing repair work at 296 Beacon Street when welding sparks — technically called slag — jumped over to the neighboring four-story brownstone row house at 298 Beacon Street.

After festering under the clapboards for a time, the sparks eventually ignited the fire. Whipped by fierce winds blowing off the Charles River gusting up to 45 miles an hour, the fire blasted up from the basement and raged out of control through the entire eight-unit building, gutting it and taking the lives of Boston Firefighter Michael Kennedy and fire Lt. Edward Walsh.

The blaze is under investigation by the fire investigation unit of the Boston Fire Department, the homicide unit of the Boston Police Department, and the homicide unit of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

A lawsuit brought by the owner of the gutted building identifies the welding company responsible for the sparks as D & J Iron Works, owned by Giuseppe Falcone. The lawsuit claims D & J was operating without a permit at the time the inferno started, although Falcone says in his own court filing that D & J doesn’t exist. City officials, as well as those investigating the fire, have not identified the welding company.

The permitting process is a way for Boston Fire Department officials to monitor welding activity, called “hot work.” Permits typically require the welding company to have on-site supervision – a so-called fire-watcher from the fire department — to ensure that the work is being done in a safe manner.

Since 2010, 69 firms have been cited for a total of 89 welding violations in Boston, according to Boston Fire Department records obtained through a public records request.

City legal officials, speaking on background, say D & J was fined years ago for operating without a permit. A public records request for those records was denied.

“The documents responsive to your request are being withheld,” Steve MacDonald, the fire department’s public information officer, said in a statement. “The documents that you have requested are investigatory in nature and therefore exempt from disclosure . . . . These documents are part of an ongoing criminal investigation and, as a result, their production would probably . . . prejudice the possibility of effective law enforcement.”

The city’s Inspectional Services Department, which is charged with hearing any appeals of fire code fines, also declined to provide records in its possession related to D & J Iron Works and Falcone. Responding for the agency, Nicole Taub, a lawyer with the Boston Police Department, provided a response similar to that of the Boston Fire Department.

Falcone’s attorney, Richard Bardi, declined to comment on whether his client had been fined for operating without a permit in the past. Records on file with the Secretary of State indicate D & J was dissolved twice, once in 2005 and again in 2010. Falcone was listed as president of both companies.

Boston Fire Department records from 2010 to the present indicate welding code violations and fines are not uncommon. Most of the 69 companies named in the records have single violations, but a quarter of them have been fined more than once.

Nino’s Iron Works of Everett, for example, was fined once in 2014 and once in 2012. Those records also indicate the firm was fined four times in 2009. The fines for all six violations totaled $4,600. Officials at Nino’s did not return phone calls.

Suffolk Construction Company, a major builder in Boston, was fined twice in 2013 for welding violations, for a total of $600, both involving a subcontractor. On one of those occasions, the subcontractor was welding without a permit; the other time the subcontractor was welding without a fire watcher being present.

“All workers on Suffolk construction projects are subcontractors,” according to Mark DiNapoli, the president of the company’s northeast region. “What sometimes happens is that a permit expires and the subcontractor does not renew it.”

Ackles Steel & Iron of Waltham has been fined four times for welding violations, twice for welding without a permit and twice for welding without a fire watcher being on site, for a total of $1,700. “I don’t think we’ll have any comment,” said a man who answered the phone at Ackles. He refused to identify himself.

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Otis Elevator, with a local office in Needham, has been fined three times for welding violations. In 2013, the company was fined $500 for welding without a permit on Arlington Street and $1,000 for the same offense over on Newbury Street. A year earlier, Otis was fined $100 for failing to have a fire watcher at a Clarendon Street work site.

“Safety is fundamental to everything we do at Otis,” said Elizabeth Young, an Otis spokeswoman. “We require compliance with all regulations and codes that apply to our work and promptly take correction actions when needed.”