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Treadmill the Culprit in Springs Fire

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 16:29
A fire that gutted a Springs house last week was traced to the electrical cord on a basement treadmill.
Michael Heller

The East Hampton Town fire marshal's office found a treadmill's electrical cord to be the cause of a fire on the morning of July 20 that "totaled" a Springs house.

Springs Fire Department Chief Tim Taylor reported on Friday said the family had gotten out of different parts of the house and was safely together on the front lawn by the time the fire department arrived, but the fire left them with neither a home nor belongings, according to a GoFundMe page set up to help them get back on their feet. Ana Barros "and her children were lucky to make it out safely," wrote Jessica Tovar of Organizacion Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, who is organizing the fund-raising effort "in hopes of alleviating some of the financial needs that they are now facing." 

The Springs Fire Department was alerted to the fire on Springs-Fireplace Road between Harrison Avenue and Copeces Lane shortly after 9 and responded with two engines, a tanker, and ambulances. They soon requested mutual aid from Amagansett, in the form of a tanker and a rapid intervention team, and East Hampton, in the form of an engine and tanker. Fifteen minutes later Sag Harbor's rapid intervention team was summoned. The RIT teams pull firefighters out of a structure when they are in trouble, Chief Taylor explained. Luckily, there were no injuries.

The Montauk Fire Department stood by at the Springs Firehouse to respond should there have been other calls for help. 

Because the fire seemed to be electrical in nature, PSEG Long Island was called to shut off power to the house. As no lives were in danger, the four fire departments who responded to the scene had to wait until PSEG arrived. Only then could they aggressively battle the fire.

"When we show up, one of the first things we normally do is pull the meter off the house, which kills the power throughout the house," Chief Taylor said. "Unfortunately, when we got on scene the electric meter itself was actually on fire and we couldn't get to it." 

The responders mitigated the danger as best they could until PSEG cut the main power line. "You can't squirt water on electricity, obviously, so you have to weigh up your risk/reward. If there were people inside, we would have made the attack and gone in."

The fire indeed was electrical as suspected, the fire marshal Tom Baker said on Monday, after handing over the investigation to the family's insurance company. "Things started in the treadmill and caught the laminate floor," he said. 

The treadmill was in the basement, and the electrical cord had been caught under one of its legs. Over the course of about two years, the pressure wore away the cord. The fire marshal noted that there are many codes that address this type of issue, such as requiring protective covering over floor cords or ensuring no electric wiring is running under a carpet. 

Mr. Baker said the treadmill had been bought on Amazon. The family is trying to find the receipt to help the insurance company determine its manufacturer, and he said that perhaps a serial number could be salvaged from the burned machine to help identify its make and model.

Chief Taylor said that also problematic was the home's "balloon" construction, which means it allowed the fire to spread easily and get into the roof rafters.

An estimated 30 firefighters were on scene, and the day was very hot. "We went through manpower pretty quick," the chief said. Especially in the heat, the 15 or so firefighters in the house at a time had limited air supply. An "evolution" is what the department calls the 15-to-20-minute shift a firefighter is able to spend in the fire before getting checked out by the ambulance and released again. 

Hydration is key, Chief Taylor said, and the Springs Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary played an important role, as they were called away from their day jobs to take water and food to the responders.

The family lost everything, according to Ms. Tovar, but they have "a very strong faith, which is helping them get through these difficult times." As of Monday, more than $10,500 had been raised toward a goal of $50,000 to help them. Those wishing to contribute can search "Springs house fire" at to find the donation page.


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