By Christina Hager

BOSTON (CBS) — After a restaurant grease fire killed two Boston firefighters 12 years ago, stricter cleaning and inspection regulations were put in place.  But WBZ-TV’s I-Team found hundreds of restaurants have let dangerous amounts of grease build up in their kitchens.

“He wasn’t even supposed to be there,” said Cheryl Payne, with tears streaming down her face. She was remembering the night her former husband, Boston firefighter Warren Payne, answered a call at the Tai Ho restaurant in West Roxbury in 2007. “At the time, I had two young boys, and they lost their father, and people don’t understand what it’s like to lose a parent at such a young age.”

Payne was one of two firefighters killed fighting the grease fire that had simmered through the kitchen vent duct work for hours before it destroyed the restaurant. After days of emotional services for Payne and fellow firefighter Paul Cahill, the city and state adopted new stricter regulations for cleaning and inspecting vents around restaurant cooking equipment.

Boston Firefighters Warren and Paul Cahill were killed in a fire in West Roxbury (WBZ-TV)

But thousands of records obtained by the I-Team show a dozen years later, things are messy. One complaint written by an inspector included a computer attachment with video of grease oozing from the duct work in a local restaurant. Other reports show photos of it congealed in pipes. Records show businesses skipping cleanings and inspections for months, some more than a year, even more than three years in one case.

“Duct is loaded with grease and has never been cleaned properly since installation,” said one report. Another restaurant was reported to be “saturated with grease creating a dangerous condition.” Another was in “imminent danger of ignition.”

Firefighters at Tai Ho restaurant in West Roxbury in 2007 (WBZ-TV)

“We hate to hear that news,” said Boston’s Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Jack Dempsey.

After the Tai Ho fire, Boston passed an ordinance requiring all restaurant vent systems be regularly cleaned and inspected by licensed, registered companies. It’s up to those companies, and the restaurants themselves, to make sure they’re in compliance. “They should be reporting deficiencies to us, and that’s all followed up by our department,” said Dempsey.

Grease oozes from duct inside Boston restaurant (WBZ-TV)

But last spring, grease ignited in the walls at My Sister’s Crawfish in Dorchester, shutting it down. Last year, South Boston’s Tasty Burger went up in flames. According to the fire inspector’s report, it was also “the result of a grease fire.” It happened a couple of years after a fire at celebrity chef Todd English’s place, Figs. The fire inspector said that was caused by “excessive grease build-up from lack of proper cleaning.”

The problems the I-Team uncovered had already been reported to the Boston Fire Inspector, who issued hundreds of violation notices over the last few years. But in many cases, they were cited after countless problems had already gone undetected.

Cheryl Payne calls the situation unacceptable.

“There might’ve been laws in place after that event,” she said, referring to the 2007 Tai Ho fire. “It’s time for somebody to start enforcing and making sure that is done.”

Christina Hager


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