Thursday, Jul 1, 2021
LAWRENCE -- A grandmother jumped from a second floor window to escape the fire spreading in her Lafayette Street home.
It was after that blaze a decade ago, which was fueled by a dried up Christmas tree, that veteran Lawrence firefighter Juan "Manny" Gonzalez knew more had to be done.
For 10 years now, Heal Lawrence, co-founded by Gonzalez, has been helping Lawrence fire victims.
After three major fires in June, the Lawrence non-profit is accelerating its push for renters insurance for tenants in apartments throughout the city.
In the event of a fire, having such insurance would help replace valuables, clothing, furniture and possibly more, said Gonzalez and Wayne Hayes, the Heal Lawrence co-founder, during an event Thursday afternoon at the Claddagh Pub in Lawrence.
Heal Lawrence hosted the event, inviting representatives from insurance companies, as well as the Red Cross and Greater Lawrence Community Action Council.
Hayes noted renters insurance could cost $150 per year. In comparison, if burned out of your home, a hotel room can cost $150 a night, he said.
"The insurance piece is so, so important," said State Rep. Christina Minicucci, a Democrat from North Andover.
Minicucci said when a fire occurs locally, she is always so relieved to hear that people have escaped safely from harm. However, she then worries "where are we going to put all these people," she said.
Fellow State Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, praised Heal Lawrence for the work it's done in the community. In the past, Heal Lawrence has gone to him looking for financial assistance for fire victims.
"Since then, I've been on their speed dial," he said during the Claddagh event.
Renters insurance, he said, "is not a lot of money."
"It's very cheap and saves you from a lot of headaches," Moran said.
Val Dasilva, a Lawrence native who owns a local insurance company, Davila & DeFusco, says renters insurance can often be bundled with an auto insurance plan for a very low cost.
The latest major fire occurred Monday night at Milton and Lowell streets when a two-alarm blaze completely burned through the roof of a single-family home.
Investigators determined the fire started somewhere in the attic at 45 Milton St.
Six people — three adults and three children — were displaced and a pet cat remained missing after the fire.
Last Wednesday night, four families — a total of 20 residents — were displaced from a multi-family home at 66-68 Trenton St. That fire was caused by “careless disposal of smoking materials,” investigators determined.
And, on June 10, 17 residents were displaced by a fire in a Shawsheen Court apartment complex. That 3-alarm fire caused about $3 million damage to the apartment building, officials said.
The cause of the Shawsheen Court blaze has been ruled “undetermined,” although foul play is not suspected. Firefighters battling that fire also faced severely low water pressure problems.
The Shawsheen Court apartments have been razed and the remnants are being checked for asbestos.
Hayes on Thursday afternoon thanked many organizations and officials who have worked with Heal Lawrence, including Fire Chief Brian Moriarty, Fire Capt. Patrick Delaney, Mayor Kendrys Vasquez and Alex and Nardy Vega, a local couple who host an annual holiday party for charity. During the Vega's holiday party, they collect gift cards to donate to Heal Lawrence, he said.
City councilor Marc Laplante came to the event with his sons, Max and Alex. His boys harvest bee honey and sell it. Half of their profits they donate to Heal Lawrence.
On Thursday, Max Laplante turned over $183 to Heal Lawrence, prompting applause.
"You can see families who are taking their personal events and turning them into ways to help Heal Lawrence," Hayes said.
Staffers from the Marriott Residence Inn in Andover and Tewksbury also attended and were thanked for their assistance with fire victims.
Heal Lawrence collects gift cards from grocery and department stores, as well as Uber and Lyft rideshare companies.
Gift cards can be dropped off at The Center, 155 Haverhill St., Lawrence. Donations can also be made online via heallawrence.org.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.