PORTLAND, Maine — Some memories never fade. Even the ones we really want to forget.
For Dave Foster, the early-morning fire that gutted a Portland apartment building and killed six people on November 1, 2014 is one of them.
"It didn't seem real. It still doesn't feel real," Foster said. "We're still here."
His friend and coworker David Bragdon, 27, was among the six people who died.
It was the city's deadliest fire in at least four decades.
This was Foster's first visit to the new permanent memorial at Longfellow Park just feet from the scene of the fire.
He and his one-year-old son sat on one of the six benches scattered about the park, each one with a plaque and a victim's name.
-Steven Summers, 29
-David Bragdon Jr., 27
-Ashley Thomas, 29
-Christopher Conlee, 25
-Maelisha Jackson, 26
-Nicole (Nikki) Finlay, 26
There is also a stone monument that will community members and family of the victims plan to formally dedicate at a ceremony on Saturday, just one day after the five year anniversary.
"It's been five years," Foster said. "We're just trying to move on."
Investigators found the fire started from smoking materials thrown away in a plastic container on the building's front porch.
Officials believe smoke detectors in the building were not working and several exits were blocked—making it nearly impossible for the victims to escape.
The landlord of the property at the time, Gregory Nisbet, was found ‘not guilty’ of manslaughter, but found ‘guilty’ for misdemeanor fire code violations.
He served three months in jail.
Nisbet did not return NEWS CENTER Maine's request for comment for this story.
While a lot has been done to remember the victims, Foster and others still believe there is work to be done to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the city.
"Are we better after the fire? I believe so," Portland Fire Chief Keith Gutreau said.
Since the Noyes Street Fire in 2014, the city took a number of steps to try and bolster inspection efforts, including the creation of the Housing Safety Division under The Department of Permitting and Inspection.
"Basically what I'm looking for is any hazards. That could be exposed wiring, open junction boxes without a cover," Chuck Fagone said as he walked through cobwebs in the basement of a multi-unit building near downtown.
Fagone oversees the city's new Housing Safety team made up of four code enforcement officers.
He goes through hundreds of the oldest buildings in the city to make sure landlords are keeping up with the nationally-mandated codes.
According to records from the city, the number of inspections has climbed dramatically over the last five years from 1,400 a year to more than 3,000.
The number of inspections nearly doubled from Oct. 2014 to Oct. 2015.
"We are focusing more and quality," Gutreau said. "So we get into the buildings we do the inspection and then we follow through all the way with the enforcement to make sure at the end of the day the people inside the building are safe."
Gutreau admits the enforcement piece can be difficult.
The process will get easier now that a new database system has been implemented this year, according to Fagone. He said it will better flag the need for re-inspection to ensure landlords fix issues.
Still much of the regular fire inspections are divided among members of the fire department.
A notice obtained by NEWS CENTER Maine, and signed by Chief Gutreau, details plans to temporary pull staff from the department's Fire Prevention Bureau though.
According to the notice, two captains will be moved to fill a vacancy for two separate periods of time.
"It seems like we were staffing up because we added people to fire prevention Now we're going back in the other direction it looks like," Chris Thomson with Portland Firefighters Local 740 said.
Thomson said the staffing change is a direct result of an ongoing excessive overtime issue that has plagued the department.
"It's kind of like a baseball team just because you play less games this season doesn't mean you cut the outfield," Thomson said. "The motto for the city of 'rose from the ashes'—it's there for a reason."
There are currently 226 full-time firefighters employed by the city. There are no plans to cut positions like other municipalities have had to, according to Gutreau.
He insisted the temporary change to the Fire Prevention Bureau will not jeopardize safety.
"It's a captain that is on on long-term leave that we are just trying to give some consistency to the employees that are at the firehouse," he said. "I wouldn't of done it if they told me they weren't gonna be able to handle it."
That allows the Fire Prevention Office to also focus more on education, according to Gutreau.
Since the 2014 fire, the department has participated in an annual community fire prevention event on Noyes Street.
This year, children and families attended to celebrate Halloween and be reminded of the importance of simple things like checking smoke detectors and having evacuation plans in place.
"We want people to be ready and prepared," community member and event organizer Carol Schiller said. "These fires are avoidable."
SAFETY TIPS FROM NFPA:
1) Install smoke alarms in EVERY bedroom. They should also be outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Install alarms in the basement. Test them regularly. Replace if they are more than 10 years old.
2) Make a home escape plan. Draw a map of your home showing all doors and windows. Know at least two ways out of every room. In multi-unit buildings make sure those means of escape are not blocked.
3) Get out and stay out. When a fire alarm goes off or you notice flames, evacuate your home. Do not go back inside for anything.
4) Close doors behind you. A closed door may slow the spread of smoke, heat, and fire and block oxygen from fueling the flames.
More tips are available on the National Fire Prevention Associaton's website.
"It still doesn't really feel that long ago," Foster said as he reflected on the deadly morning sitting on the bench to honor his friend David Bragdon.
It is a memory he said he will never forget, no matter how much he wants to. It is a memory he will one day have to share with his son, named 'David.'
"Knowing them I know that they would want us to keep living," he said.
A dedication ceremony for the new memorial will be held on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. at Longfellow Park.