Early morning fire displaces families in apartment complex

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published November 25, 2013

What appears to be an accidental cooking fire displaced dozens of families in an early morning blaze Sunday on the top floor of Providence Towers, an apartment complex on Nine Mile Road.  

A total of 32 firefighters from six local departments battled the fire for half an hour, encountering several mechanical issues and sending two people to the hospital for smoke inhalation, according to Southfield Fire Chief Keith Rowley.

“This was a very big, tough fire. It was a hard fire to fight for our firefighters,” Rowley said Monday morning. “It was hot and there was a lot of smoke in the unit and the hallway. Plus, being a high rise (building), they had to climb seven flights of stairs just to get set up. High rise firefighting is a different beast.”

According to Rowley, the call came in just after 1 a.m. Nov. 24, when residents from the building had reported the presence of smoke. The first crew on the scene made its way up the stairs to find light smoke on the fifth and six floors, and heavy heat and smoke on the seventh floor, he explained.

While attempting to put out the blaze, coming from a small, one-room studio apartment, Rowley said, they lost water pressure, causing a delay.

“The Fire Department connection where we hook into to supply the water into the system failed and the fire pump wasn’t running,” he said, adding that the elevator also got stuck on the first floor in fire service mode.

Once the fire was contained, firefighters discovered a pot on the stove of the studio apartment, which had been completely consumed. Rowley said they believe that fire subsequently burned up the rest of the apartment and most of the hallway.

“We had people we had to rescue off their balconies. We had to get them with the aerial tower,” he said, adding that the Salvation Army and local Red Cross were on the scene to help about 10 families coordinate temporary shelter. “Everyone on the seventh floor had to be relocated. … They will be out of their homes for quite some time while renovations are happening.”

The smoke damage on the fifth and sixth floors was manageable, he noted, and residents were back inside their units that morning. The two who went to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation were a security guard who had been knocking on doors to alert residents and a seventh-floor tenant who took in smoke while trying to exit.

Property managers could not be reached at press time, though Rowley said they were on the scene that morning and very cooperative in getting restoration services as quickly as possible, as well as bringing out a contractor to fix the issues that caused delays for the Fire Department.

As for the tenant who lives in the studio, Rowley said they had not been able to reach him.

“He was not on the scene, but we have his name now and are trying to reach him,” he said. “It does appear to be an accidental fire, that maybe he was just cooking and forgot about it.”

According to Rowley, this particular apartment complex was built before a central alarm system was required and therefore did not have a method to notify all residents that there was an emergency in one of the units.

It took until after 5 a.m. to clear the scene, he added.