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Mass. firefighters mark anniversary of deadly rooming house fire

15 people died in the Elliott Chambers rooming house fire in Beverly in 1984


The scene of the Elliott Chambers fire in Beverly, Mass. on July 4, 1984.

The Elliott Chambers Fire Memorial Foundation, Inc./Facebook

By Paul Leighton
The Salem News

BEVERLY, Mass. — The 40th anniversary of the Elliott Chambers rooming house fire did not pass without notice.

At 4:18 a.m. on July 4, Beverly firefighters laid a new flower box at the memorial in honor of the 15 people who died in the fire, one of the deadliest in state history. The fire was reported at 4:18 a.m. on July 4, 1984.

The memorial was established in 2010 at the corner of Elliott and Rantoul streets at the site of the fire, which is now a CVS.

In addition to placing the flower box last Thursday, firefighters left a letter informing people about the importance of remembering the fire and the lives lost.

“The world has moved on,” the letter says. “The Elliott Chambers building has long been removed. While most don’t know anything about the fire, the memory of the fire and its victims is seared into the brains of those who lived through it.

“It is our responsibility to remember this fire and those that were lost. We owe it to the victims and the survivors to ensure that a fire like this never happens again.”

The man convicted of setting the fire, James Carver, is seeking a new trial. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1989.

In the letter, the Beverly Fire Department said many of the people who died in the fire had already been living challenging lives. The victims included Ralph Nickerson, a 9-year-old boy who was visiting his brother and grandmother.

The letter also noted the “heroic efforts” of the residents, emergency responders and witnesses who tried to save as many lives as possible. The fire led to a state law that gave local communities the option to require rooming houses to be fitted with sprinkler systems. Deaths from rooming house fires have “decreased dramatically” since the law took effect, according to the city.

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“As you walk through this area, please take a moment to remember those we lost,” the Beverly Fire Department letter says. “More importantly, remember them after you leave here.

“When you are presented with the opportunity to help someone, no matter how small the gesture might be, go ahead and help. You never know what battles they might be facing.”

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