NEW SHOREHAM, R.I. (WPRI) — The man tasked with inspecting the Harborside Inn’s fire suppression system has had his license revoked, 12 News has learned.
The historic hotel is in the process of being demolished after it was destroyed by fire last month.
Investigators believe the fire, which has been deemed accidental, started in the kitchen of the Harbor Grill and was likely fueled by a buildup of cooking grease.
An investigation report obtained by 12 News revealed that the fire originated in the kitchen hood, then vented out an exhaust fan and spread upward into the wall cavity.
Investigators concluded that the fire was likely caused either by “unattended cooking or failure to maintain protective baffles in the hood.”
It was also determined that the kitchen’s fire suppression system failed to activate, according to the report.
Emergency Services of New England LLC owner Peter Freund, who had been in charge of inspecting the fire suppression system, reportedly admitted to investigators that it contained two components that weren’t supposed to be used together. The manufacture warned that the incompatible parts could cause the entire system to fail.
“Freund stated that he had verbally advised the building owner that the two components were not listed for use together but that, when the building owner did not want to pay for a new control head, Freund tagged the system as compliant regardless,” the report states.
Freund acknowledged tagging Harborside Inn’s fire suppression system as compliant repeatedly over the years. He also admitted to doing so for two other nearby businesses he was tasked with inspecting.
Investigators ordered the two businesses — Club Soda and Mohegan Café — to “abate the cooking process” until changes were made to their non-compliant systems.
“The fact that Freund allowed this condition to continue may represent gross malpractice and/or incompetency,” the report continues.
Freund’s license was revoked as a result of the investigation, though he could appeal the decision.
It was also revealed that the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) does not have a record on file for inspections of the Harborside Inn. (The state took over inspections for New Shoreham back in 2019 when the town’s inspector was relieved of those duties.)
“The COVID-19 pandemic followed which slowed and, in some cases, halted many inspections,” R.I. Executive Office of Commerce spokesman Matthew Touchette said. “Since then, the OSFM has been working to conduct all inspections on Block Island.”
In addition, investigators stated that the restaurant manager claimed the kitchen hood was cleaned at the start and close of each season. But the last recorded cleaning of the kitchen hood dated back to May 2022, which violates Rhode Island Fire Code.
The report states it also “does not appear that routine cleaning [was] conducted on the cooking surfaces.”
“Accumulations of grease and food debris was noted throughout the length of the cook line and on every appliance,” the report reads. “Grease drips were visible on sides of appliances and solidified grease was observed on the floor.”
No criminal charges are expected to be filed, since the fire has been ruled accidental. Touchette said the OSFM doesn’t have the authority to file criminal charges, adding that the only exception is for arson investigations.
“This does not relieve the property and business owners of obligations to comply with fire code,” Touchette explained. “Any determination regarding liability for damages would be a civil matter among the respective parties and their insurance companies.”
Investigators sent the hotel’s damaged circuit board to a technology company in an attempt to see whether additional footage from that night could still be retrieved.
Meanwhile, New Shoreham Town Manager Maryanne Crawford tells 12 News demolition of the hotel is expected to be completed by the end of this week. She added that the demolition debris would then be removed over the next two weeks.