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Press Conference: Several Rescue Attempts Fruitless in Christmas Fire

City officials speak with reporters to share the latest in the investigation into the deadly Shippan Avenue fire.

Update 5:19 p.m.:

Over and over, attempts were made to rescue the family lost in the Shippan Christmas Day fire. Each one failed.

Michael Borcina, the boyfriend of Madonna Badger, made one. He got back inside the building and led two of the children downstairs from the third floor to the second, but in the heat, smoke and confusion, two girls ran off—one went back upstairs and the other ran elsewhere in the burning home.

The body of one of those children was found with her grandmother near the stairway at the front of the house.

Madonna Badger, the homeowner, also tried to get back into the building, but the flames prevented her, and firefighters who found her still attempting to get in brought her back, away from the flames.

Badger's father, Lomer Johnson, got out of a second-story window, but fell, face first, to his death two stories below at the back of the house. Another grandchild was found on some books near the window Johnson fell from.

Fire officials believe Johnson had hoped to get out of the window, climb on some rafters that were there during a construction project on the house, and somehow grab the child so they could both make their escape.

When firefighters arrived, a crew rushed onto the third floor, but they found no one. A fire captain's face was burned in the attempt.

Firefighters made another attempt, rushing into the second floor, but that attempt also proved fruitless. Two firefighters were later treated for smoke inhalation.

"After 37, 38 years on the job, you're never prepared for anything like this," Acting Fire Chief Anthony Conte said during a 40-minute news conference Tuesday in Government Center. "I had to recall 70 firefighters today for debriefing, and most of them broke down."

The news conference did not clear up whether or not Badger's family was occupying the second floor of the structure, which was undergoing renovation. Under city building regulations, a permit is needed before people can move back into areas undergoing extensive renovations.

At the Badger home, on the second floor it was only permissible for the master bedroom to be used. Whether or not family members were sleeping there when the fire began is not yet known, city officials said. The first and third floors were available for legal occupation, they said.

It was also unclear whether or not a working smoke alarm or other fire detection system was operating at the time. Some initial comments from city officials at first seemed to indicate that no alarm system was in use, but later in the news conference city officials said they simply didn't know.

An alarm system had been part of a building application, officials later said, but that proposed system had not yet been offered up for inspection. Officials said they didn't know whether or not smoke detectors were still in place in the building.

Update 4:38 p.m.:

Acting Fire Chief Anthony Conte said Michael Borcina tried to get back in the building to rescue the girls.

"You have to understand that with the amount of heat and smoke how scared those children must've been," Conte said.

The master bedroom was on the second floor near the turret, so it was easier for Borcina and Madonna to get out.

The news conference ended at 4:37 p.m.

Update 4:31 p.m.:

Response time to the fire was six minutes, Acting Fire Chief Conte said.

"It appears that the second floor was occupied," Barry Callahan, the fire marshal, said.

Mayor Michael Pavia said the final inspection had not yet taken place on the house. Asked if it was allowed for a family to live in an area that was under construction, before city building inspectors gave approval, Pavia answered, "Technically the approval process is such, that if someone had been living in a place that had not been inspected for code compliance, the answer is no."

"We do know from the building permit file that there was a recent amendment to the building permit application to install a new security alarm and fire detection system in the house," Pavia said. What was in place before installation, he said, "we don't know."

Update 4:25 p.m.:

Some members of the household went to bed as late as 3 or 3:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, and the Fire Department was called at about 4:50 a.m., according to the city fire marshal. He believes the fire started between those times.

The ashes were placed in a bag, the fire marshal said.

Update 4:21 p.m.:

A trash enclosure "attached to the rear portion of the house" near the back mudroom was roughly where the fire embers had been put, a city official said.

A fire captain received burns on his face and two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation after different crews of firefighters went into the burning house, Acting Fire Chief Anthony Conte said.

There was a system to detect fires in at least certain areas of the house, according to Ernie Orgera, director of operations for the city of Stamford. The house passed initial building inspections in July. They looked at plumbing, electrical systems and the structure.

The family was allowed to live in parts of the home that were not under construction, Orgera said. The entire second floor was under construction except for the master bedroom.

Update 4:15 p.m.:

Acting Fire Chief Anthony Conte said at the news conference:

  • "There was an extremely large amount of fire when we arrived on that scene."
  • "The structure was so weakened that we had to place ladders [...] horizontally, so firefighters could get in."

Update 4:12 p.m.:

Michael Borcina, the boyfriend of homeowner Madonna Badger, had removed some embers from a fireplace and put them near the back of the house, by a mudroom. That's where the fire started, according to Acting Fire Chief Anthony Conte.

Borcina led two of the children downstairs to the second floor and was leading them out "but the girls panicked. One obviously ran back up stairs the other went off in another direction, and he lost sight of them," Conte said.

Borcina had tried to get back into the house but could not, Conte said. "Mrs. Badger was helped down from the second floor roof" and told firefighters the children were on the third floor, he said.

Update 4:07 p.m.:

Acting Fire Chief Anthony Conte said the grandfather, Lomer Johnson, tried to save one of the grandchildren and had her on some books near a window on the second floor. Johnson was found beneath the window.

City officials said the family was doing construction work on the home while they were living in it. The house had no smoke detector or similar fire alarm system, as far as city officials know.

Pavia: Technically, to live in certain portions of the house, they needed permission from city officials.

Update  4:01 p.m.:

The news conference has started. Mayor Pavia said:

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the parents, the families and the friends of these people that we lost."

We made every effort to determine the cause of this tragedy so that we may present to you today factual and reliable conclusons."

"One that frustrates us the most is that despite the heroic efforts five people lost their lives in this catastrophic blaze and there's no way we will ever change that."

Original article:

Police and fire officials will be speaking with reporters later this afternoon to provide deeper details on what caused the devastating Christmas Day fire that killed five members of one family, one of the worst in the city's history.

Grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson of Southbury and their granddaughters, 10-year-old Lily Badger and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger, died in the blaze, which began just before 5 a.m. Sunday at 2267 Shippan Ave.

The children's mother, Madonna Badger, was able to escape along with family friend Michael Borcina, a contractor. The Johnsons, Badger's parents, had moved to Connecticut from Kentucky to be closer with their grandchildren.

There is evidence desperate attempts were made to save the girls before firefighters even arrived. The Hartford Courant today reported Lomer Johnson was trying to reach one of the girls and that Madonna Badger tried to race back into the home to get her children but was restrained for her own safety. 

In the aftermath of the fire, eyewitnesses described Badger and Borcina as in a state of severe shock.

The Courant also reported Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia saying today the cause was "fireplace related," echoing other reports that disposed ashes from a yule log may have started the fire. 

The five-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home, purchased last December for $1.7 million, was initially constructed in 1895 and was undergoing extensive renovation.

The city has been deeply affected by the fire, , now razed to rubble, to pay their respects. 

Several firefighters were injured, though it is not clear how severely.

EMR December 27, 2011 at 10:08 PM
This is so sad and tragic. Thank you our brave firefighters for all your efforts. My question is why this house was demolished before any further forensic evidence was uncovered especially Mr. Borcina's involvement however innocent by intention.
MisterSpuddy December 27, 2011 at 10:28 PM
From what I heard, EMR, it posed a distinct hazard to neighboring buildings. That is why it was razed so quickly.
Joe Burke December 27, 2011 at 10:47 PM
EMR- I heard on the news this morning that the house was so badly damaged the fire department inspectors had to extend ladders horizontally across the house to secure it enough so they could collect their data. There was substantial concern that a curious bystander might try to take a look inside the house and get seriously injured so they razed it
John Symon December 28, 2011 at 12:33 AM
What a heartbreaking story! The loss of children is the worse thing possible. Add the grandparents.... Sounds like the grandfather was a hero. I can never understand why people move embers that are still hot. A large house in Ridgefield burned to the ground a few years ago when embers were put in a plastic garbage container in the garage. Loss of pets, but no human lives in that case. I have had many different emotions towards Michael Borcina, the boyfriend/contractor. No doubt this was a terrible accident that he will have to live with. It had been reported that this man escaped wearing his boxers. Perhaps the two girls he was guiding outdoors freaked at seeing the contractor in his underwear? And imagine the poor father of the kids, being driven to the scene by Stamford police. Can't help thinking about the firefighters, police etc who had to deal with this on Christmas Day. The unsung heros.
melissa Coughlin December 28, 2011 at 03:11 AM
Mr, Noe. Your comments are crass and heartless. Perhaps you are unaware of what the community is reeling about....three little girls and two loving grandparents were lost in a most horrific way. A single mom is left alone with unbearable grief. How do you think she'd feel if she read your tacky, insensitive comments? You would have been wise to leave it at, "Truly very sad."
David Gurliacci (Editor) December 28, 2011 at 03:30 AM
I removed the comment.
David Gurliacci (Editor) December 28, 2011 at 03:32 AM
Since I removed another comment, Cath's reply below now seems to refer to John Symon's comment. Sorry for the confusion. She and melissa Coughlin's comment, below, are responding to a comment no longer in this thread.
ZuZu December 28, 2011 at 03:36 AM
What a horrible thing to say! I just do not understand how people like Mr Noe and Mr Symon think!!! When someone is leading a person from a burning building I'd think the last thing anyone would notice would be the person's attire! I am sure there are a lot of "if-onlys" and "what-ifs" going through the minds of the survivors but your insensitivity gets the prize! What a bunch of creeps!
sebastian dangerfield December 28, 2011 at 05:24 AM
We know the Badgers. They separated years ago. Commentary by people like Symon is not productive and i imagine noe, with his no it all attitude had some ridiculous take on the subject. I have no idea how she will get through this- how they will get through this--but the last thing they need to deal with , is blame by idiots who know nothing and contemplate if underwear may be a contributing factor.
John Symon December 28, 2011 at 05:38 AM
I didn't mean to sound harsh or focus on the guys attire (I've heard far worse at my workplace). This was a terrible, terrible accident. I have kids the same age in my family I can't imagine how anyone can carry on.
Jim Eastwood December 28, 2011 at 01:06 PM
Good Morning ALL This could happen in Fairfield Did you all know that the Grandfather was a Heath and Safety Director who had since retired?? We have similar buildings in this Town\ I don't care about the relationships, But I do care about the apparent carelessnes. First to Ocuppy without a CO Second the Interior not being finished Third that type of dwelling even if finished is a difficult fire to fight Fourth No smoke Alarms Fifth Ashes in a bag ??? Come on, in Fairfield county there are numerous fire a year started in the same manner And Sixth years ago a Progressive Fire Chief attempted to get Fire Sprinklers installed in Dwellings over 4000 square feet- He was driven out of Town When are we going to learn, and I hope that these people did not die in vane So to the Greiving Familys, The Fire Fighters, and the stunned Community I for one will push for Laws to avoid this sort of Incident Learn from this !!! And Stay Safe
CelticFan191 December 28, 2011 at 03:06 PM
Lt. Eastwood- you are correct! People also need to remember that putting the hot ashes & embers into a metal bucket is also a problem. In Weston two years ago, a resident placed a metal can containing hot embers on a wooden screened in porch- the bottom of the can heated up and conducted the heat to the wood until it flashed setting the whole house on fire. Add water to the container & you won't have this problem.
Peter December 28, 2011 at 05:54 PM
May the souls of the perished rest in peace; and may the survivors find the support and love to help carry on with their lives. Parents, hug your children; and all, please check your smoke detectors.
Connecticut Patrician December 28, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Being a clueless idiot like Borcina is not a crime. But seriously, how someone especially a contractor did not know this basic concept of no burning logs or embers go in a bag by the mudroom is just beyond comprehension. I feel very sad for Madonna and her ex husband. They are the ones who lost three children.
Connecticut Patrician December 28, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Then to top it off--Borcina was interviewed by the New York Daily News and says--"we are going to be okay. We are trying to stay positive"---Hello? Three children just died and you are saying that? There is something very bizarre here.
sebastian dangerfield December 29, 2011 at 03:46 AM
http://badgerfamilysupport.com/
maria December 29, 2011 at 02:43 PM
I ache for all those involved...I am so sorry....
Cath December 29, 2011 at 03:53 PM
I agree- people need to stop with the fire prevention comments and what should have been done, etc. There is no sure thing in life, regardless of how controlling, cautious, and careful you are. Nothing will bring them back and the negative commentary is only going to rub it in. The girls are in heaven in a peaceful place and are no longer suffering. It is impossible to move forward after a tragedy with 'what ifs' and negative commentary. It's not always so black and white in life. You will understand, once you have been through tragedy yourself.
EMR December 29, 2011 at 04:00 PM
After reading all the reports, it still astounds me why Borcina is not brought up on a charge of negligent homicide. The way the City of Stamford has handled this is quite out of the ordinary. An immediate declaration that this was an unfortunate accident and then tearing the building down rather than investigate potential criminal liability looks askew. There is a lot more to this. Thank you our brave firefighters. Our thoughts are with Madonna's family.
Cath December 29, 2011 at 04:04 PM
I can understand your point of view, but really, what point does it actually serve? To teach him a lesson? To punish him? Or to make an example out of him? Why does the government have to be a part of everything? I can assure you that he probably would feel terrible, even if no one pointed the finger at him. He has to live with this the rest of his life, regardless of whether or not he's charged with anything. And again, no amount of money or punishment or law could bring the girls and their grandparents back.
EMR December 29, 2011 at 04:11 PM
Cath, the point is there was a rush to judgement by City officials. There's a lot of chatter all over the world regarding this. UK Daily Mail, etc...Borcina's background and whether he is negligent or not should not be determined within hours of this horrific trdgedy. Nothing will bring this poor family back. But there is also due process of further inquiry.
Samantha B. December 29, 2011 at 04:14 PM
I could not agree more EMR. There is far more to this story.
MrBelvedere December 29, 2011 at 04:32 PM
With all due respect to the victims of this entirely preventable tragedy and with the hope that no one will be offended; I find various aspects of this incident to be close to implausible and fanciful. And I sincerely hope that the investigation is thorough and ongoing because we must always afford the utmost respect to those who are no longer with us since they cannot provide to us their side of the story in their own words.
Samantha B. December 29, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Indeed. The carelessness is just amazing. All the things you point out are so true. And since Borcina is a contractor how could he not know that placing embers in a bag is dangerous? The lives of those children and the grandparents are lost because of either intent to cause some harm or just plain ignorance. Either way, it's very sad.
David Gurliacci (Editor) December 29, 2011 at 06:35 PM
This thread is now closed. Thanks to everybody for participating.

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