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Welding business sued over fatal Back Bay fire

Building owner says precautions lacking in blaze tied to sparks

The owner of the Back Bay apartment building destroyed by a nine-alarm fire that killed two firefighters last month is suing a welding company it says was responsible for the blaze.

Law enforcement officials have said that the welding company — identified in the lawsuit as D&J Iron Works in Malden — failed to get a permit from the City of Boston for work on a railing next door to the building that burned down. Applying for a permit would have required the welders to have outside supervision to ensure the work was done safely.

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The lawsuit accuses the welding company of failing to keep a fire extinguisher at the site or placing fire resistant shields or guards over anything that could be combustible.

The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court on April 14, says the welding company; its owner, Giuseppe Falcone ; and Oliver Realty, which manages the building where the welding work was being done, had a duty to make sure precautions were taken.

“The nature and circumstances of the welding work to be performed by D&J . . . were inherently dangerous,” the lawsuit states.

Falcone’s lawyer, Richard C. Bardi, said Falcone is distressed by what happened.

“This is a very sad tragedy. . . . His prayers are with the firefighters’ families,” Bardi said. “He’s not acknowledging that he was involved in any way, shape, or form.”

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On March 26, strong winds whipped through the city as welders from D&J Iron Works worked behind 296 Beacon St. Fire investigators later determined that sparks from the welding work flew to the clapboards on 298 Beacon, where they smoldered, eventually igniting the massive fire that destroyed the eight-unit building and trapped Lieutenant Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy in the basement. The two firefighters were among the first to respond to the scene.

Suffolk prosecutors and police are investigating whether anyone bears criminal responsibility for the fire.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Herbert Lerman, the executor of the estate of Michael J. Callahan, which owns 298 Beacon St.

“The negligent acts or omissions of D&J, Falcone and Oliver Realty LP each contributed to the indivisible damages which the Estate has suffered,” the lawsuit states.

Through his lawyers, Lerman declined to comment Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Oliver Realty also declined to comment. Falcone did not respond to messages left at his home or his business.

Bardi, who is Falcone’s lawyer, said: “Until such time as the cause and origin experts have completed their investigation it is simply unfair to everyone, including the families of the firefighters and anyone else involved in the fire, to rush to judgment and form any conclusions.”

Fire and police officials announced the cause of the fire on April 4 but did not name the welding company. The official said that no permits were issued for the welding work.

Bardi said he could not comment on the statements made by law enforcement officials that the company did not have the proper permits for the welding work.

“At some point in time, we’ll have an explanation for that,” Bardi said.

In obtaining a permit, a welding company typically agrees to have a “fire watch” present, a firefighter or someone else knowledgeable in preventing and stopping fires. That fire watch must remain at the scene for at least 30 minutes after the work is completed to make sure flames are not sparked, according to Fire Department regulations.

Steve MacDonald, spokesman for the Boston Fire Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The department began an internal review of its response to the fire about two weeks ago, he said. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has also launched a separate investigation.

Jake Wark, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said the criminal investigation remains “very active.”

“We’re still in the fact-gathering stages,” he said.

Lawyers for the Callahan estate asked a Superior Court judge to bar both Oliver Realty and the welding company from transferring any financial assets while the lawsuit is pending.

The complaint does not specify a sum for the financial loss that resulted from the fire. The city has assessed the property’s value at $1,628,500.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.

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