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Barrington couple killed in Beech Tree Apartments fire

GREAT BARRINGTON — A Great Barrington couple perished as the result of a Silver Street apartment fire.

t approximately 7:40 p.m. on Monday, Great Barrington Fire responded to Beech Tree Apartments complex, located at 24 Silver St., for a reported structure fire with possible entrapment. 

Chris Dolby, a Beech Tree Commons tenant, reported hearing a “banging” sound coming from next door.

“I was watching TV and I could hear banging and banging,” said Dolby, who made the 911 call. “It went on for about 10 or 15 minutes. I stepped outside and there was this orange glow and this smell. Once I stepped to the sidewalk, there were flames going all up the siding. I ran and got the phone. I ran through the parking lot yelling for help.”

Upon arrival, firefighters found a rear unit ablaze in the eight-unit apartment complex. After performing a primary search, firefighters found two unresponsive occupants, which have since been identified as 68-year-old Michael Romano and his wife, 67-year-old Susan Romano, according to Berkshire County District Attorney’s office spokesman Andrew McKeever. 

Though firefighters were able to rescue the couple from their home, Southern Berkshire Ambulance pronounced Michael Romano dead at the scene, said Great Barrington Fire Chief Charles Burger. Susan Romano was initially transported to Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington and then later transported by EMS to Albany Medical Center. On Tuesday night, she succumbed to her injuries. 

“The Great Barrington Fire Department would like to offer its heartfelt condolences to all those affected by this tragedy,” said Burger. 

While the department responds to many incidents that include fatalities in a year’s time, fire-related fatalities are not as common, he added. Prior to Monday’s response, the last fatal fire in town was around three years ago, he said. 

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is expected to conduct an autopsy to determine Michael Romano’s cause of death. 

On the scene, Great Barrington Town Manager Mark Pruhenski provided an update from Burger late on Monday night.

“The rear three units were the ones affected by the fire,” said Pruhenski. “Everyone that lives in the building will be able to return to their apartments shortly, with the exception of those three units.”

Utilities were shut off to the building and thus forced occupants to seek alternative housing that night. Management at Beech Tree Commons provided overnight accommodations for residents at area hotels, said Pruhenski. 

“[The Romanos’] apartment was completely gutted by the fire and there was structural damage to a small portion of the roof. The damages are probably $50,000 to the structure and $25,000 in contents,” said Burger on Tuesday, adding that the building is valued at $610,000. “With one minor repair, the tenants in the other seven apartments were able to return home today.”

The fire was extinguished by 8:15 p.m., but as of 10 p.m., members from the Great Barrington Fire Department remained on scene performing interior investigations, with help from the Great Barrington Police Department. 

A second alarm was initially requested dispatching Monterey, Egremont, Stockbridge and Sheffield. A total of 21 firefighters were on scene, said Burger. 

In addition to Great Barrington Fire, the department received assistance from Barrington Police, Southern Berkshire Ambulance, Lenox Fire Department’s Rapid Intervention Team, Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal’s Office, and Massachusetts State Police Crime Scene Services. Sheffield Fire Department covered Great Barrington’s station during the response.

An airlift was considered for transporting the couple, but was ultimately decided against due to the weather, according to Pruhenski.

The State Fire Marshal’s office with the assistance of the Massachusetts State Police Berkshire Crime Prevention and Control Unit and the Department of Fire Services is investigating the fire. Though the investigation is ongoing, as of Wednesday afternoon, the cause appears to be accidental, according to Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the Department of Fire Services. 

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