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Pittsfield Responders Recover Drowning Victim
By Andy McKeever On: 04:53PM / Tuesday June 25, 2013
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Giant sandbags were used to stop the flow of water down the spillway and instead redirect the flow into another pipe.

Update, Wednesday, June 26, 2013 at 4:00 p.m. : The body of a drowning victim in the Housatonic River near the Mill Street dam was recovered after responders sandbagged the pipe's intake, alleviating the water flow that was pinning the body to grating inside the pipe.

The recovery came more than 24 hours after the man was reported missing in the river at 11:40 a.m. on Tuesday.

"After conferring with engineers and DPW, utilizing resources — Wahconah Welding for their crane operations and Roto-Rooter for their underwater cameras — we were able to sandbag the area, which alleviated the suction on the tube and we were able release the body," Deputy Fire Chief Michael Polidoro said Wednesday afternoon. "Our divers recovered him within less than a minute."

Police have now taken control of the body. The victim, said to be in his late teens or early 20s, has not been indentified but was reportedly from Los Angeles.

Wednesday morning, firefighters, police, private companies and city Highway Department workers were on scene working with engineers from the state to derive the sandbag idea. The body was being held against the grate by the high pressure of the water and the sandbags were placed in a position to reroute the flow through another pipe.

The night before, workers were unable to slow the pressure with the use of a steel plate nor were they able to simply pull the body out. The pressure was too much for divers to go into the spillway.

"We operate on safety factor. We made sure everything was in place and in the process no one would get hurt," Polidoro said.

The American Red Cross and Hinsdale Fire Department were providing rehab.


Update: 9:45 p.m.  Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski said the body is too tied up with debris to be removed from the pipe at this time and responders will return in the morning with a new plan.

"We felt we've done all we could tonight," he said, adding that responders have been on the scene for more than 10 hours.

Crews first tried to lower a steel plate over an intake to slow the river speed but that was unsuccessful. Then, firefighters had tried to pull the body out but it was too tangled in debris. The cameras being used are not able to capture the full picture in the turbulent water.

"We just can't get a vision to see what may be hanging him up," Czerwinski said. "We're not sure how we're going to be able to pull him back out of it."

A line is tethered to the body for responders to find its location in the morning and police will secure the scene throughout the night. Czerwinski said he hopes to be back on scene by 9 a.m., after a planning meeting to determine the next steps.


Update at 8:30 p.m.: A steel plate has failed to reduce water pressure and responders are developing another plan to retrieve the body.

A lighting system was brought to the scene and installed allowing the responders to work at night. However, it is unclear how long they will stay on scene.


Update: Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski reported at 6 p.m. that the body of a man believed to have drowned in the Housatonic River had been located.

"The victim, we feel, has been located, caught up against a grating in the bottom of the river," he said. "We trying right now to relieve pressure so we can recover that body sometime in the next hour."

Responders used a camera to find the body and were planning to lower a 5 by 8 steel plate by crane onto a vertical intake line upstream in an effort to reduce the pressure in the system so it will release body.

Czerwinski said the work and weather would determine how long it would take.

The sheriff's department was also on the scene, and the fire chief noted that Roto-Rooter and Wahconah Welding had aided in the effort.

"We have tremendous support from the outside helping us in this operation," he said.

The identity of the victim, a man in his late teens or early 20s, has not been confirmed. He reportedly had the nickname "Raccoon."


PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Emergency crews have been working since noontime to recover the body of a swimmer who was believed trapped in the Mill Street dam.

Three people were reportedly swimming in the Housatonic River when a current pulled one of them into a spillway pipe inside of the dam at 11:40 a.m. The body had become trapped inside of that pipe.

"We have a victim who was last seen at the spillway at the end of the Mill Street dam," said Deputy Chief Michael Polidoro on Tuesday afternoon. "We believe he was sucked into the actual spillway and is trapped in that configuration of piping."

The man, reported to be in his late teens or early 20s, was last seen by the two other swimmers at the scene near the spillway. Police were working on identifying him. A woman who was in the water with him said she had was holding onto him but lost her grip, then was able to grab onto a rock.

Emergency responders, including the state police and Pittsfield technical dive teams had arrived at the site but Polidoro said conditions made it difficult to determine where the swimmer was and to get him out.

"We're trying to reduce the flow of the water into that location," he said, adding that the turbulence hampered use of underwater cameras. "It's too hazardous a condition for both city divers or Massachusetts State Police diver to enter because of the hydraulic pressures in the water."

Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski confirmed shortly afterward that the flow of water from the Housatonic, swelled by recent rains, was too fast and heavy to risk using divers.

The swimmer was believed to have been caught up in the turbulence and sucked down into a sluice or pipe and possibly caught on a grating.

Polidoro said the configuration of pipes and sluices in the waters under the dam, which was first built to power the former Eaton Mill, were complicated. Owners of the mill had provided a set of blueprints from the 1930s but they appeared to be incomplete.

"The plans we have do not indicate what type of piping or stone waterways is in there," he said. "We're trying to get equipment in there."

Czerwinski said the responders had thought they would be able to block one sluiceway to lower the water but discovered another one under the river they were looking to block as well.

He said the area was not a regular swimming hole but something of a hangout and party area.

"We've had problems here on occasion, people falling into the water and not being able to swim, but this is the first drowning I can recall," said the chief.

At this point, the operation has switched to recovery but Czerwinski said no body had been located as of 5 p.m. The efforts were going to continue as long as the weather and daylight held out.

"It's a recovery operation, which means everything gets put to a pace where so safety for the responders is the utmost importance," said Polidoro. "To make sure everything is done properly and we don't lose anyone else."



     
Pittsfield Police Asking Residents To ID Stolen Property
By Andy McKeever On: 02:19PM / Tuesday June 04, 2013
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Police have recovered hundreds of pieces of jewelry and other items that are not matching up with their records of items reported stolen in a recent rash of break-ins.

Anyone who has had their home broken into prior to March 22 is being asked to identify their possessions at an open house on Saturday, June 8, from 10 to 2 at the Police Department on Allen Street.

Police say the items either haven't been reported stolen or were stolen from homes outside of city. The investigation is being done by state, Cheshire, Lanesborough and Pittsfield police. Some of the recovered property has already be linked to break-ins in those communities and in Richmond.

Police have arrested Christopher Maschino Jr., 21, and Anne Haughey, 21, both of Pittsfield, in connection with the break-ins.

Even if the owners of the seized property can identify it, they cannot take possession of their items immediately because they are being held as evidence until released by the district attorney's office.

Attendees are required to bring a valid identification to the open house and are asked to bring any ownership documents.



     
Pittsfield Firefighters Battle Bakery Fire
Staff Reports On: 03:34PM / Friday May 24, 2013
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Flames burst out of the second story of the Lampiasi's Bakery in Pittsfield.

Update: Write-thru at 6:19 p.m. with quotes and new information.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The well-known Lampiasi's Bakery was engulfed in smoke and flames on Friday afternoon as firefighters battled to save what was left of the building.

The bakery at 53 Kent Ave. was open for business just before 2 p.m. when the fire was reported. Five workers, including two sons of owner Shawn Lampiasi, fled the building and were all accounted for.

Heavy smoke could be seen over North Street from the upper floor of the two-story building, and toward the back, where the bakery's century-old wood-fired ovens are located.

Fire officials do not have a cause but believe the blaze started in a void above the ovens between the first and second floor.

"Initially we did an interior attack, there was fire above the ovens," said Deputy Fire Chief Michael Polidoro. "We were operating the first alarm assignment, they were making no headway into the attack.

"We called the second alarm, which brings firefighters on duty to the scene and got mutual aid to cover the city with Dalton, Lanesborough and Lenox."

An hour into it, the airhorns were sounded and firefighters abruptly pulled from the building as the flames burst through the second-floor windows.

"There were guys who were in the building who unfortunately did not hear the evacuation order from me and one of our universal codes, throughout most fire departments, is to use the airhorns — three short blasts — in order to evacuate the buiding."

The top floor reportedly had office equipment and cleaning supplies but it was not clear they were stored there. The cause of the blaze has not yet been determined.  

The building dates to 1900 and suffered from another fire in the late 1980s. The property is assessed at $107,600.

The flames were beginning to die down later in the afternoon as firefighters mounted an exterior attack. Extra oxygen supplies were brought in.

Kent Avenue was closed and Seymour Street between Madison and Kent. County Ambulance, fire and building inspectors, and Berkshire Gas were at the scene, and many bystanders.

"A defensive attack as it is right now, is trying to maintian the fire at one point," said Polidoro as the crews continued to work at about 4:30. "They seem to be making some headway at this point."

The deputy chief said no one was injured although a couple firefighters experienced heat stress from the initial attack. "They all have recovered."

"The number of renovations in this building hampered our operations," he said. "Because of the different layers we had to get to ... the fire got a good hold."

The building, at the corner of Kent and Seymour, is separated from nearby buildings by parking lots and streets.

Lampiasi has operated the business for 31 years. It serves area restaurants and the public schools with breads and rolls.   The building is insured. The bakery had been previously owned by the late Walter F. Komuniecki Sr., who operated it for some 50 years before he died in 1969.



     
Pittsfield Residence Heavily Damaged by Fire
By Andy McKeever On: 02:00PM / Tuesday April 23, 2013
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Firefighters knocked down a blaze at a home on Columbus Avenue.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Firefighters responded to a two-alarm fire Tuesday afternoon at 237 Columbus Ave.

The fire in the two-story home was reported at 1:18 p.m. The occupant and two cats and two small dogs escaped the building.

Heavy black smoke was pouring from the upper floors of the home; flames could be seen shooting from back of the building.

"As they pulled out of headquarters, they had a large column of fire and smoke coming right up in front of them," said Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski.

He said the first deputy on the scene requested a second alarm; the 19 firefighters on duty responded and off-duty ones were called in to cover the station.

The building incurred heavy damage and is likely to be condemned. The fire started on the east side and quickly spread into the attic.

"The siding on this building is an old asphalt-shingle siding that we commonly refer to as 'gasoline siding' and it really propogates a fire very quickly," said Czerwinski. "It was that siding that created a lot of fire and a lot of smoke."

The building, which dates to 1850, is a single-family home that at some point had been renovated into three apartments, according to city records, but was restored to a single-family again.

The fire chief recalled there had been some spot fires in the building eight or 10 years ago and it was a vacant single-family at that time. "I didn't realize somebody was in here trying to rehabilitate it," he said.

Czerwinski expected crews to be on the scene the rest of the afternoon as the cause of the blaze is investigated. The American Red Cross also provided one adult who was displaced by the fire with shelter, food, clothing and a comfort kit and provided food and drinks to the first responders. The Red Cross will follow up with the affected individual in the coming days.

"We have crews right now that are working in the attic trying to make sure that's out," he said. "You can see the light smoke, that's probably a deep-seated fire in there it will take a little while to get through there."

The property is owned by Columbus Avenue Realty Trust, according to documents on file with the Middle Berkshire Registrar of Deeds.

Columbus Avenue was closed to traffic between Robbins Avenue and Francis Avenue as firefighters deployed equipment. 



     
President of Enviro-Labs Faces Additional Charges
Staff Reports On: 02:33PM / Tuesday April 02, 2013
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — William Enser Jr., the president of Berkshire Enviro-Labs, was back in Superior Court on Tuesday facing new charges.

Enser previously pleaded not guilty to 15 counts of knowingly falsifying reports submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection and 15 counts of willfully making false reports to MassDEP. He allegedly backdated drinking-water sample analysis to cover up misconduct and feign compliance with environmental laws.

He now faces an additional 14 counts of willfully making false reports to the MassDEP and another 14 counts of knowingly falsifying submitted reports, all of which he pleaded not guilty to in Berkshire Superior Court on Monday. The additional charges brings the total counts up to 58.

According to Attorney General Martha Coakley, Enser, 63, of Lee, continued to work at the lab through February 2013 and failed to submit required sampling that showed bacterial contamination in drinking water samples.

Enser allegedly hid samples that revealed contamination and instead took multiple samples and sent only passing results to the state. Authorities say that in one instance in October 2012, Enser directed an employee to report a drinking water sample which had come from the tap in the Enviro-Labs’ office instead of the public water source.

The lab's certification for testing samples has been revoked by the state.

"These additional charges allege that this defendant failed to submit water sample analysis that showed bacterial contamination to the MassDEP," Coakley said in a press release issued on Tuesday. "He is now prohibited from being involved in the operation of the company and is no longer able to tamper with water testing reports and potentially put people at risk."

After the first arraignment, Enser was prohibited by the court to act as the drinking water system operator, take drinking water samples, conducting water testing or reporting water data. But, he remained active with the company and Judge Daniel Ford ordered receivership of Enviro-Labs. Enser is prohibited from being involved in the company in any way.

"The Environmental Strike Force's continued investigation into the activities of Mr. Enser, who has already been indicted for falsifying drinking water reports, has now revealed evidence of additional fraud," said Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of MassDEP. "MassDEP is committed to upholding the integrity and the safety of drinking water programs across the Commonwealth."

The investigation began in September 2012. Enser is due back in court in June.



     
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