Letter to the Editor: New Haven Man Killed in High Rise Fire

To the Editor,           

A New Haven man was killed on Wednesday, June 11 when a fire began in his apartment at the University Towers Building. The 63 year old victim, Charlton Gilbert, was in his apartment on the sixth floor of the 17 story building. Despite firefighter’s quick response and best efforts Mr. Gilbert succumbed to his injuries. Nearly 48 hours later a hotspot in the same apartment reignited and traumatized residents of the building were forced to evacuate their homes once again.


The building contains fire sprinklers on only its first three floors, which are meant to protect the medical offices. The rest of the building is residential and was not required to have automatic fire suppression when it was built, despite buildings of similar design being required to have them today. People in high-rise buildings are especially susceptible to fire because their escape routes are limited and stairways and elevator shafts can often act as “chimneys” funneling thick poisonous smoke upwards. Firefighters are also placed in dangerous situations and can be easily exhausted carrying heavy equipment and victims up and down many flights of stairs.


In high-rise residences and office buildings having a fire sprinkler system that can react to the heat of a fire and can control and even extinguish the blaze while first responders arrive and residents evacuate can mean the difference between life and death. Many of these buildings however are “grandfathered” or not required to upgrade their fire protection based on the time in which the building was erected and the fire codes of that time. This tragic incident should shed light on the issue of updating our State’s high-rise buildings in order to keep our residents protected in the places that they should feel the safest… In their own homes.


I urge you to check the batteries in your smoke alarms, educate yourself on the current fire protection requirements in your own building, and learn how to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community from the ravages of fire. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victim and his family following this tragedy.



David Lafond

New England Regional Manager, National Fire Sprinkler Association

(413) 244-7653



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