Fire-displaced get aid

Published 8:05 pm Monday, November 24, 2014

A principal of Suffolk Towers LLC says housing assistance will continue for displaced tenants after a fire at the North Main Street property Sunday.

Suffolk firefighters work to rescue a man from his apartment on the seventh floor of the Suffolk Towers apartment building on North Main Street in downtown Suffolk during a two-alarm fire that originated in a fourth-floor electrical panel on Sunday afternoon.

Suffolk firefighters work to rescue a man from his apartment on the seventh floor of the Suffolk Towers apartment building on North Main Street in downtown Suffolk during a two-alarm fire that originated in a fourth-floor electrical panel on Sunday afternoon.

Scott Alperin said the company paid for 41 tenants to spend Sunday night at two Holland Road hotels.

Alperin spoke via phone after tenants staying at the Days Inn after being evacuated from the building during Sunday afternoon’s two-alarm fire — a handful of others stayed at Econolodge across the road — said they were stunned when hotel management told them the company had paid for only one night and that they had to leave.


Email newsletter signup

Days Inn extended the 11 a.m. checkout by half an hour, while a woman at the Econolodge front desk said the fire victims had until 1 p.m. to leave.

“A lot of us are not going to have any place to go,” said Louis Eure, 57.

“They brought us up here; how are we supposed to get away from here?” said Pamela Shivers, 56.

But Alperin said his property manager is working with their families to ensure the displaced have a place to stay until they can return.

“If no one has a place to stay, we are going to continue to make sure they have a roof over their heads,” he said, adding the company was not legally obligated to do so.

“The tenants are our No.-1 priority, and we are glad everyone is safe and no one is injured.”

Eure said he was cooking in the third floor when the fire alarm sounded. After receiving the call at 2:09 p.m., firefighters arrived two minutes later with heavy smoke on the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh floors, city spokeswoman Diana Klink stated, and they immediately began evacuating the building.

“They were just going from floor to floor, telling everybody ‘you have go to get out of the building,’” Eure said.

“I was able to walk out. We took the steps — the elevator wasn’t working.”

Shivers, who had been watching television, said the alarm went off five minutes after the power went out.

She said she attempted to return to her fifth-floor apartment to retrieve her medications, but only made it to the third floor.

“Somebody came and gave me a breathing treatment,” Shivers said. “The Rescue Squad had a portable chair they brought me down in.”

A total of 61 people were evacuated from the building, including one man in his 40s whom firefighters rescued with the ladder from Ladder 6 when they saw him seeking assistance from his window on the seventh floor of the eight-story building.

The man who was rescued was seen attempting to open his window, and rescue personnel were able to get him out of his apartment and onto the ladder’s platform. He was given a medical assessment when he was on the ground.

There were no injuries in the fire or the evacuation, and firefighters reported the blaze was under control at 3:18 p.m.

About 3:30 p.m., Christine Ward of Main Street United Methodist Church, located across the street from the apartments, walked through the church’s atrium and noticed the flashing lights of first responders.

With the senior firefighter’s permission, the church began sheltering the displaced.

Before it and nearby St Paul’s Episcopal could collaborate on some sandwiches, Main Street UMC provided plates of spaghetti — Cub Scouts had just finished an awards ceremony and spaghetti dinner.

“We had almost enough for each of the residents to have a little bit … and were able to serve the firefighters, as well,” said Ward, church music director.

Both Baron’s Pub and WalWin Carpet, which are located on the ground floor of the high-rise building provided temporary shelter from the rain for the victims as they were evacuated, Klink stated.

Dominion Virginia Power and the building’s maintenance team responded to the scene, and power was secured for the residences after firefighters had brought the blaze under control at 3:18 p.m.

There was no water damage to the building, as dry chemicals and carbon dioxide were used to extinguish the fire, which was of an electrical nature. The building suffered only minor smoke damage, Klink stated a press release. The two retail establishments had no damage.

Officials from the city’s Community Development Division responded to the scene on Sunday to advise the maintenance crew on the requirements that must be met for the power to be restored.

The two-alarm fire originated in an electrical panel on the fourth floor, according to Klink.

Alperin said it was the first electrical issue since his company bought the property in 2006.

“Over the last couple of years, we’re been upgrading all the electrical to eliminate all of the old fuse boxes,” he said. “All the electricity is wired to a breaker box on each floor, which is up to current code.”

The company is now upgrading wires, Alperin said, and tenants will be able to return when that work is complete. “It could be another three or four days,” he added.

A city press release on Monday stated that three panel boxes — located on the third, fourth and fifth floors — would have to be replaced. Those repairs are expected to be complete Dec. 1, Klink stated in the release.

Meanwhile, the people and organizations that stepped in to help on Sunday continue to be involved in helping those displaced by the fire.

The Rev. Keith Emerson of St. Paul’s, which helped Ward with the sandwiches, was working Monday to see what other help was needed. He was planning at the very least to take the displaced more food.

“I don’t think any of them have cars,” Emerson said, adding the tenants fled with only the clothes on their backs. Firefighters later coordinated a run to the building after the fire was extinguished, so they could pick up medicine and other necessities residents had been forced to leave behind in the evacuation.