File photo by Erin Sanchez

Donations needed for family who lost everything in fire

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published July 31, 2019


HAZEL PARK — In the span of four days, the Hazel Park Fire Department responded to two house fires. The fires occurred under very different circumstances: One house was hit by a firebomb in the dead of night, while the other caught fire during the day from what appears to have been an electrical malfunction. 

The family that lives at the latter home lost everything and is in need of help. The family includes a father who coaches robotics at Hazel Park Junior High, and his two sons who go to school in the district. 

The Madison Heights/Hazel Park Chamber of Commerce is collecting donations of clothing, shoes and other household items, as well as gift cards and cash donations. Donations can be dropped off at the chamber office inside Madison Heights City Hall, located at 300 W. 13 Mile Road. The office is across the hall from Community Development. All donations will go to the family. 

The clothes needed include XL shirts, 2XL shirts, and L shirts; pants (36 waist/32 length; XL sweatpants; and 14 waist/16 length); and men’s shoes in sizes 11, 11 wide, and 9. 

Keri Valmassei, executive director of the chamber, said that she hopes people will help out.

“It’s times like these when we really see what the community is made of, and how we take care of our own,” Valmassei said. “It’s a horrible thing to lose everything. I’m glad they still have their lives, of course — that’s the most important thing — but rebuilding from the ground up is not simple.”

The victim from the other home reportedly told authorities that he did not desire any assistance.

Details of the fires

The two fires occurred near the end of July. The first occurred just after midnight July 26 at a home in the 900 block of East Mapledale Avenue. A man and his girlfriend were home when someone appears to have thrown an incendiary device into the building, setting it on fire.

“We have security footage from neighboring homes that show some suspicious individuals walking by the area around that time. The police are investigating it,” said Hazel Park Fire Chief Richard Story, noting that Oakland County’s arson unit is also involved.

The male victim didn’t immediately call 911; instead, he tried to use a fire extinguisher and then a garden hose before running into the burning house to retrieve his cellphone.  

When firefighters arrived, they found the entire front of the home engulfed in flames, and they had to aggressively attack the fire to put it out.  

The girlfriend reportedly was covered in soot but otherwise OK. The man had received first- and second-degree burns on his body from when he ran into the home to get his phone, but he refused to be treated. 

“EMS checked them out, but he refused medical care,” Story said. “He definitely needed to be seen (by a hospital), but we cannot kidnap people and take them against their will, so we signed off.”

The chief said it’s unusual to see someone actually burned in a house fire. 

“Usually the only time I see people burned is when they’re working on automobiles or mechanical things and gasoline ignites in their presence,” he said. “It’s usually just smoke inhalation.” 

The other fire — the one at the home of the family in need of donations — occurred the next week at around 1:20 p.m. July 29 in the 900 block of Coy Avenue. Earlier in the day, the father and his sons had noticed a “campfire smell,” the chief said, but they couldn’t locate its source, so they left the home for the day. The fire broke out sometime thereafter. It appears to have been caused by an electrical malfunction near the porch light. 

The fire spread across the enclosed porch, which concealed it from neighbors at first. By the time firefighters arrived, the front of the house was consumed in flames, with a heavy fire in the attic. Firefighters from Hazel Park were assisted by mutual aid from Madison Heights and Ferndale, making entry into the home and spraying water to knock down the fire. 

“The (mutual aid) was key in helping us get this extinguished in a quick amount of time,” said Story, who was on the scene. “It was a hot, muggy day, and those four extra bodies from those two departments greatly increased our capacity.”

While addressing the two fires, additional calls came in for emergency medical care, forcing the Hazel Park Fire Department to call upon private companies to fulfill those runs.

“It’s rare we have downtime — I think it’s deserved when we do — but when it rains, it pours,” Story said. “I just want people to know that if you smell a weird odor in your home and aren’t sure what it is, call us. That’s what we’re here for, and we know what to look at and where to go, and we have tools like a thermal imaging camera to check your outlets or whatever may be hot. And then we can go from there, potentially eliminating a fire before it starts.”

Amy Kruppe, the superintendent of Hazel Park Public Schools, said that now is the time to support the robotics coach and his family as they rebuild their lives.

“It’s devastating when something like this happens to anyone. I think anything the community can do to support them is important, especially when they dedicate so much of their time to helping students improve. And of course the man’s kids are our students,” Kruppe said. “The school will reach out and continue to help them, but anything anyone else can do to donate and help is appreciated. This is what Hazel Park is all about, and we’re so proud that Hazel Park always stands up and takes care of its own.”