PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The family of one of the four victims – an 85-year old woman – who perished in the West Chester assisted living complex fire in November is seeking answers, and a Philadelphia law firm is speculating out loud what it believes may have gone wrong.
Attorney Robert Mongeluzzi believes that the sprinklers did not activate during that five-alarm fire. He says Theresa Malloy “died alone, and terrified” in her second floor room, just above the covered patio, where the fire started.
“And the fire suppression system, from all the information that we have seen and heard, did not work,” Mongeluzzi said.
They brought in two experts Wednesday for a site inspection, four weeks after the blaze. Attorney Andrew Duffy says they’re investigating the source and origin, and looking in detail at the fire suppression system.
“There have been prior reports of nobody coming out of Barclay Friends that night wet,” he said. “That immediately tells you that the sprinklers were not working.”
Duffy also points out a main valve to turn on the sprinkler system in the mechanical room was in the closed position – turned off – during their inspection.
“If it was off the night of this deadly fire, that would give a complete explanation for why the sprinklers were not working,” he said, “and were not shooting out water, as they were supposed to.”
Federal investigators have reconstructed the covered patio, and set aside the remains of a burned out lounge chair and metal receptacle, creating speculation that someone was carelessly smoking. All of Barclay Friends Senior Living Complex is a no smoking facility.
Victim Theresa Malloy, the daughter of Irish immigrants, was from North Philadelphia and went to Hallahan High School. She raised her three children in the Oxford Circle section of Philadelphia, and has just moved to Barclay Friends Senior Living Community 4-weeks before the blaze broke out.
Her grown children Gary, Mary and Martin also talked about what a fun-loving, vibrant person she was. Daughter, Mary DiMaio says she was independent and lively.
“She raised us as a single mom,” DiMaio said. “She was strong, smart and funny.”
As the fire raged that night, the family began to panic when first responders could not locate her.
“But, it’s nothing compared to the panic she felt in the middle of the night, dark, alone by herself,” her daughter said. “Now that we know what happened, put yourself in our shoes.”
The family was notified by the police chief a day after the blaze, that she was among those they could not account for. There were 137 residents and 15 staff members inside when the fire broke out.
Federal investigators say they are still testing and examining systems, as well as interviewing witnesses. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms says the investigation is “ongoing.”