Schenectady County

Smoking likely cause of fatal Schenectady house fire

Smoking ruled as likely cause of fire in which a Schenectady man died.

The Saturday morning fire that claimed the life of a city man was likely caused by smoking, fire officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, the man who died was identified by officials as 86-year-old Robert G. Lundergan, who served in the Army and worked nearly three decades for the U.S. Postal Service.

Newspaper records also show that tragedy has befallen the Lundergan family before. In 1985, Lundergan lost his 14-year-old son Andrew to a bicycle accident.

Lundergan died Saturday in a fire at his residence, at 1080-1082 Helderberg Ave.

Firefighters were called just before 7 a.m. David DeVito and his wife, who own the property and lived on the second floor, got out safely.

Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco said Monday said everything points to smoking as the cause. The victim was known to smoke a pipe, Della Rocco said, and the fire is believed to have started in his bedroom.

With that, he said, investigators “feel very strongly” that smoking led to the blaze.

Lundergan is the third person to die this year in Schenectady from a fire, and the second killed in a fire where smoking was blamed. A woman died in January in a blaze on Foster Avenue blamed on smoking.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Gillespie said later smoking safety is an ongoing problem, with many other smaller fires also taking place because of careless smoking at home or on porches. It’s something the department may do more education with in the future, he said.

Lundergan served in the U.S. Army and worked as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service for 28 years, according to his obituary. He worked well into his 70s, not retiring until less than 10 years ago.

He was active in the Boy Scouts of America and was also a former teacher and theater manager, according to his obituary.

Along with his son, Andrew, his wife predeceased him, according to the obituary. He is survived by friends and several nieces and nephews.

The Lundergans’ son Andrew Lundergan passed away in March 1985 in Galway, according to a Daily Gazette newspaper account from the time. The boy died from head injuries suffered in a bicycle accident on Shaw Road in Galway.

The next year, Lundergan wrote a letter to the editor of The Daily Gazette, writing in favor of a proposed bicycle helmet law.

“If one child can be saved from death or permanent damage, can it be a bad law?” he wrote in the October 1986 letter. “If one set of parents can be spared the unending pain and loss of a prematurely taken child, can it be a bad law?”

Funeral services Lundergan are to be private with burial in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Schenectady. Donations in his name can be made to the American Diabetes Association, 2 Pine West Plaza, Albany, N.Y. 12205, according to the obituary.

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