After Hamel Lightning Strike, Officials Seek Solution to Lack of Local, State Regulations

The Hamel factory chimney just after a June 30 lightning strike. (WHAV News photograph.)

Officials say restoration of lightning rods at an unused chimney at a downtown apartment complex might have saved the structure, but there are no local or state rules requiring them.

City Councilor William J. Macek said he wants the state legislature to look into solving the problem.

“After my research and trying to find what the standards might be in other communities and even in other states, I was unable to find any regulations we could use a s a model. I find this to be a public safety issue. It might be time to bring our state legislative delegation to bring it forward so that a committee can create some statutory guidelines.”

The approximately 140-foot chimney, once part of the L.H. Hamel Leather Co., was recently reduced in size after a June 30 lightning strike damaged the structure, forcing partial demolition. Large tears in the brick smokestack forced evacuation of Hamel Mill Lofts’ residents in apartments facing the structure.

Officials, however, said no provision was made to require the rods—known as “air terminals”—in the 1975 state building code. Despite the lack of rules, Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, told WHAV building owners should voluntarily undertake precautions. She said, “Owners should always do what they need to do to protect life safety at their buildings.”

Mieth said the original 1916-era rods, designed to direct lightning strikes safely to ground, were probably voluntarily installed at the time. Any new requirements would typically be considered by either the state Board of Fire Prevention Regulations or Board of Building Regulation and Standards.

Haverhill Health and Inspectional Services Director Richard MacDonald told WHAV the only guidance he can find is a standard suggested by the National Fire Prevention Association if rods are installed. He said he continues to weigh long-term solutions.

Macek said notable “increases in the severity of our weather is probably even more justification” to write regulations. He plans to add the matter to the next Haverhill City Council agenda. “With climate change there may be more lightning strikes that we have to contend with,” he added.

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