Fire forces residents to evacuate senior housing

By: Brad D. Bates | Shelby - Utica News | Published November 28, 2012

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Township Supervisor Richard Stathakis credited the actions of township police and fire and a newly installed fire suppression system with keeping a bad situation from becoming a tragedy.

More than 100 residents in the Shelby Manor senior housing development were awakened when a fire started at roughly 7:40 a.m. Nov. 17 in the B building at the apartment complex located at 13900 Lakeside Blvd.

The fire quickly intensified to a three-alarm blaze that required assistance from fire crews across metro Detroit.

“Several of the tenants on the upper floors use either walkers or wheelchairs, others were trapped on their balconies, and with both elevators not usable, the rescue was a truly community effort,” Shelby Township acting Fire Chief Jim Swinkowski said in a release.

Swinkowski expressed his gratitude to fire crews from Sterling Heights, Washington Township, Utica, Macomb Township, Warren, Detroit Arsenal, Rochester Hills and Clinton Township that assisted in the rescue.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control by 10 a.m. and, along with officers from the Shelby Township Police Department and Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, helped all residents to safety.

“The efforts of our Fire and Police Departments were nothing short of heroic, as they literally kicked down every door to get everyone out of the smoke-filled building,” Stathakis said.

“We are very proud and appreciative of their outstanding and courageous efforts.”

Once rescuers had residents out of harm’s way, the American Red Cross aided the victims.

“It was remarkable how everyone came together and helped those that needed help,” Stathakis said.  “Seeing the Red Cross in action is amazing.”

Rescue workers were on the scene until 5:30 p.m. that evening, as they worked with residents to try and reclaim what items of value or significance they could from within the units.

Key in helping the first responders was a fully functioning fire suppression system that was installed for roughly $70,000 this past May.

“Thank God for that system,” Stathakis said. “If it had not functioned the way it did, the loss of property would have been much worse, and we almost assuredly would have seen a loss of life.”

The Nov. 6 fire wasn’t the system’s first test.

After the repairs to and partial replacement of the emergency fire systems in all three buildings at Shelby Manor Apartments was completed in May, a July 6 fire proved that everything was in working order.

Initial faults within the system came to light when residents in building A complained of leaks in the third-floor ceiling.

Upon investigation, a representative from Fazal Khan Associates, the township’s engineering firm, found that the water was coming from small leaks in the sprinkler system’s joints.

Further investigation showed corrosion and scale within the system that may have prevented the sprinklers from functioning properly.

The township contracted DiHydro Services Inc., a Sterling Heights-based firm, to do the repairs at a cost not to exceed $59,000 per building.

Despite the leaks only being seen in building A, there was corrosion in all three buildings, so all three required repairs, which Shelby Township Fire Marshall Dean Kueppers said should last the life of the buildings.

The cause of the Nov. 17 blaze was still unknown at press time, but Stathakis said that it was not because of any malfunctioning systems, such as furnace or electrical.

Renovations to the damaged units were under way as of Nov. 20, and officials hoped some residents might return home within two to three months. The initial estimate to have all the displaced residents back in their homes is early to mid-2013.