Tom Hedstrom is a father on a mission.

Hedstrom is frustrated by what he said has been the lack of responses by both the state and town related to the February fire in Camden that claimed the life of his beloved son, Theodore.

The 14-year-old boy died in an upstairs sleeping area of a structure that was not permitted as a residence. Tom Hedstrom has been in regular contact with the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office and Camden officials since that tragic night. A report from the Fire Marshal’s Office finally arrived earlier this month, although the conclusion on the cause of the fire appears to have been settled on by the state in June.

“I am not satisfied with governmental inaction before and after Theodore’s death,” Hedstrom said. “In every instance those government agencies chose not to take action, but, make no mistake, Theodore would be alive today if they had done their jobs by enforcing our laws and codes.”

The Maine Fire Marshal’s Office turned its investigative records over the Knox County District Attorney’s Office three weeks ago. District Attorney Natasha Irving said Thursday, Dec. 2, a meeting is being scheduled between her, Tom Hedstrom and Hedstrom’s attorney Eric “Rick” Morse. Irving said she would comment on the state investigation after she meets with the father.

A date for that meeting has not been scheduled.

The Fire Marshal’s Office conclusion in the report is the cause of the fire could not be determined.

Hedstrom criticized the report, saying the investigators asked no follow-up questions during those nine months, but only took what was told to them. He said he provided much of the information in the report. He questioned why it took nine months to be released if they did no real investigation.

Hedstrom is also increasingly frustrated with the town officials in Camden for not responding to his concerns, and not allowing him an opportunity to meet with the Select Board with those concerns.

The father tried talking to the Select Board at a July 6 Zoom meeting, but Board Chair Robert Falciani initially said he saw no one who wanted to speak, but was corrected by board member Alison McKellar, who pointed out Hedstrom wanted to speak. Hedstrom then asked to be put on the board agenda for a future meeting. Falciani told Hedstrom he would discuss the matter internally, and that ended the conversation at that meeting.

In the ensuing five months, the item has not been placed on an agenda despite repeated requests by Hedstrom.

Hedstrom appeared before the Select Board on Tuesday night, Dec. 14 and again raised his criticism the town did not do its job to enforce code and other laws. He asked the town conduct an investigation over violations of law and to forward that on to the district attorney.

Falciani told Hedstrom the issue was a personnel matter, and a discussion of whether a public official did their job or not could not be done in a public forum. Town Attorney Bill Kelly agreed with that assessment, saying town employees have rights.

Select Board member Alison McKellar said she understands the pain Hedstrom is experiencing, pointing out a lot tragedies happen because laws in place should have protected someone, but those laws were not followed. She said the death of her sister was similar in that regard.

The 24-foot-by-24-foot building where Theodore had been living at the time of the fire was built more than a decade ago as a garage/workshop. But, the loft where Theodore was sleeping was built after Hedstrom sold the property to his former wife in 2017.

Jeremy Martin, the planning and development director as well as alternate code enforcement officer for Camden, said in a Nov. 18 email to the newspaper, “at some point unbeknownst to the code and planning office, apparently the garage/workshop was converted into a dwelling unit, and then was occupied. No permits were applied for to make this conversion from garage/workshop into a dwelling, therefore there was no certificate of occupancy issued by the town. It is unknown to me when this conversion work took place.”

Hedstrom, a master electrician, has pointed out to investigators no permits were obtained for work, including creating a pine box loft where his son was trapped on the night of Feb. 25 when the fire broke out. He said the loft had no primary or secondary means of escape that met life safety codes.

Wiring had been installed for a clothes dryer, which had not received a permit, or been inspected by a certified electrician. He also cited other deficiencies in the work done on the building. While homeowners can do their own electrical work, a permit must first be received.

Hedstrom said he also finds it difficult to accept Camden officials were unaware the building was being used as a living space. He pointed out in 2o20, Camden issued a permit for a new storage building on the property.

In 2018, the town granted a homestead tax exemption for the property, which is only allowed by state law if there is a home that is the owner’s primary residence. The property is owned by his former wife Carrie Connors.

Connors said this month the property was appraised by a realtor, inspected by a USAA home inspector and financed through the Veterans Administration in 2017.

“I was not made aware at that time of purchase of any permits that were not drawn,” Connors said.

Camden Town Manager Audra Caler responded Dec. 2 to the newspaper about Hedstrom’s concerns.

“Everyone in the town is saddened by the loss of Theodore, and we feel the deepest sympathies for the Hedstrom-Conners family,” Caler said. “This tragedy has certainly raised the community’s awareness of the importance of life-safety. Camden’s Fire Department continues to offer a free life-safety inspection program for any home in Camden, which was also extended to Rockport and Hope and is now available to all Knox County residents. Since the fire at 7 Mount Battie St., they’ve performed over a dozen inspections, and installed smoke detectors at every home they’ve been to. This is all in honor of Theodore, in hopes that public education and awareness raising efforts around the importance of life-safety can help prevent a similar tragedy.”

The town manager said the town’s code enforcement officer never received any applications to convert 7 Mount Battie St. to a residence, or any complaints of code violations at this property prior to the fire.

“Like all municipal code enforcement programs, Camden works on a complaint-based system,” Caler said. “The only way the town would have found out about life-safety and building codes issues is if someone applied for a permit or informed us of an issue.”

In terms of the homestead exemption, she said a certificate of occupancy is not required to receive one.

“This could potentially be an area of advocacy to the state government to make this a requirement, which could help code enforcement officers to “catch” violations to building and life-safety codes. However, this could potentially be complicated for state legislators when thinking about older homes that aren’t code compliant, and how they would be handled through this process,” Caler said.

The fire was reported shortly after 1 a.m. Feb. 25 to Knox County Regional Communications Center. Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville and Hope fire departments, and Northeast Mobile Health Services and Rockland Emergency Medical Services responded.

When Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley arrived, he said fire was coming out of all doors and windows on the front and side of the house.

The Maine State Fire Marshal’s office sent three investigators to the scene.

Fire Marshal Lt. Troy Gardner said at the scene on Feb. 26 the cause of the fire had not been determined, although he said it was accidental. Investigators said at that time the fire started in the front corner of the residence, below where the 14-year-old was sleeping. This is also where the electrical panel for the house was located.

Two adults — Connors and her now husband Asa Thompson — were injured, and taken first to Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, and then Maine Medical Center in Portland. Thompson had serious burn injuries, and was critically injured trying to reach the boy.

Thompson said he spoke with a fire marshal investigator, and they told him the wiring he did to the building was how they would have done it as well. He said there was no indication that the work he did contributed to the fire.