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Watertown Gym Burns Down After Owner Warns Of Leaning Utility Pole

WATERTOWN (CBS) - CrossFit Arsenal in Watertown was full of members working out last August when they heard a loud noise and rushed outside. A utility pole fell over and landed on a car and the gym, sparking a fire.

"The smoke started coming out pretty fast," Leslie Shing remembered. "It was scary."

Owner Jason Gee is grateful everyone got out safely, but his dream business was a total loss. "I literally started this with a pile of barbells that I saved in my living room in my apartment in Brighton," he said.

Gee had liability insurance but none for the physical damage, so members like Jessica Pietrowicz pitched in to help. "We had cleaning parties, rescuing what we could for equipment," she said.

With the salvaged equipment, Jason and his coaches kept the CrossFit classes going outside, under a tent, even through the cold winter months. Many of his members stuck with him, but others left. He now has a new space but is struggling financially. "I haven't paid myself in weeks," he said.

Gee says Verizon and Eversource are responsible and should pay for the damage. Not only because the poles carry their lines but because he called Eversource five days before the fire to warn the company that the pole was leaning to one side. "There's a lot of sketchy looking telephone poles in Watertown. This was definitely worth calling in," he said.

CrossFit Arsenal in Watertown burned when a utility pole fell over and sparked a fire. (WBZ-TV)

It's been nine months since the fire, and Jason said he's getting the runaround.

When we contacted Eversource, a spokesperson told us that Verizon is responsible for maintaining the pole.

When we contacted Verizon, a spokesperson sent us an email stating: "We have agreed to mediate and are working to resolve the dispute."

Frustrated, Jason reached out to his state senator, William Brownsberger, who reached out to Verizon on Jason's behalf. "They are moving very slowly," Brownsberger said.

Brownsberger told us Verizon also assured him that they are working on a resolution. He urged them to pay Jason for the damage as quickly as possible. "Sometimes your [Verizon] response even on a legal matter is extremely important to the survival of a business," he said.

Longtime members say they don't want to think about what would happen if the gym doesn't survive. "The gym is more than just a building, it's a community," Shing said.

Jason believes Verizon should step up and make it right. "Fix this place that you are responsible for. Make these people's lives whole," he said.

The State Department of Public Utilities keeps track of poles that have been shored up with a second pole, but a spokesperson told us they have no data on single poles that are reported as being potentially dangerous.

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