Ex-worker faces arson charge in MSPCA fire

John Ruch

S. HUNTINGTON AVE.—The former buildings and grounds manager at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) is facing arson charges for allegedly setting a Feb. 19 blaze at the MSPCA’s 350 S. Huntington Ave. headquarters.

Arson investigators are also taking a second look at a 2008 MSPCA fire, ruled accidental at the time, that was very similar to the February blaze, the Gazette has learned.

That 2008 fire is now considered “still under investigation,” Boston Fire Department (BFD) spokesperson Steve MacDonald told the Gazette. MacDonald said that the ex-employee is not currently considered a suspect in any other Jamaica Plain arson cases.

William FitzGerald, 52, of Plymouth pleaded innocent on May 13 to charges of arson of a dwelling; injury to a firefighter; and willful and wanton destruction of property, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

FitzGerald was issued a summons to court rather than being arrested, and was released without bail. The court ordered FitzGerald to stay away from MSCPA property and employees pending trial, according to the DA’s Office.

FitzGerald’s attorney of record, Kevin Reddington, did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

The late-night February fire was limited to a fourth-floor storage room, but water and smoke did about $400,000 in damages to various floors, according to the MSPCA and prosecutors.

The MSPCA cannot reveal how long FitzGerald was employed there due to personnel confidentiality rules, said spokesperson Brian Adams. But, Adams confirmed, FitzGerald is no longer employed there.

The MSPCA headquarters includes the attached Angell Animal Medical Center and shelter. But the fire was in an office area far away from those facilities.

“At no time were any of the animals in our care in harm’s way,” Adams said.

But Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley noted in a written press statement that about 200 animals were in the complex at the time, which is also home to some resident veterinary medicine students. “There was a very real potential for injuries and much, much worse,” Conley said.

The 2008 fire was in a fifth-floor historical archive room, also in the office area far from the animals. It was ruled an accidental electrical fire at the time. Adams referred all questions about the 2008 fire to BFD.

The MSPCA’s shelter was hit by a more significant fire in 2002 that closed it down for two months. The entire complex has been renovated and expanded since then.

Adams praised BFD and the Boston Police Department for “their tireless work in resolving this matter.” He added that a “state-of-the-art fire protection system” that the MSPCA had recently installed helped control the February fire.

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