Hazel Park City Councilwoman Alissa Sullivan took her dog Hippo to  the vet for allergies in early December. Hippo, along with six other pets,  perished in a fire at Sullivan’s house when a wire malfunctioned inside the walls right before Christmas. Now, Sullivan is trying to recover from  the loss of her home and her pets, who were her family.

Hazel Park City Councilwoman Alissa Sullivan took her dog Hippo to the vet for allergies in early December. Hippo, along with six other pets, perished in a fire at Sullivan’s house when a wire malfunctioned inside the walls right before Christmas. Now, Sullivan is trying to recover from the loss of her home and her pets, who were her family.

Photo provided by Alissa Sullivan

Hazel Park rallies behind councilwoman after seven pets die in fire

GoFundMe set up by friend to help Alissa Sullivan rebuild her life

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 4, 2019


HAZEL PARK — The world can be a senselessly cruel place.

That’s the thought that keeps running through the mind of Hazel Park City Councilwoman Alissa Sullivan after a fire broke out in her house right before Christmas and claimed the lives of her three rescue dogs, three foster cats and her mother’s dog — animals who meant the world to her.

“I lost everything,” Sullivan said in an interview the day after Christmas. “As much as I’d like there to be a lesson to learn here, there isn’t. The world just isn’t fair.”   

There was no way the fire could have been predicted or avoided. It could happen to anyone. Sullivan did everything right in minimizing fire hazards. She’s not a smoker; she doesn’t use candles; she even unplugs her appliances when she’s not home.

But things can still malfunction. During a trip to the grocery store the night of Dec. 19, a wire caught fire inside the walls of her house on Hoover Avenue.

The blaze was so hot that it melted the smoke detectors. A neighbor saw the fire and called for help before notifying Sullivan on Facebook. Sullivan rushed home with only one thought on her mind: the safety of her pets. Nothing else mattered.

On the way, she called Ed Klobucher, the city manager of Hazel Park.

“I will never forget this phone call,” Klobucher said. “She said, ‘Ed, my neighbors say my house is on fire; call the Fire Department and tell them to save my animals.’ And she just kept saying it: ‘Save my animals, save my animals.’”

Sullivan has worked alongside animal rescues for decades and manages a pet care service as one of her jobs. Among the dogs in her home were owner surrenders from Detroit that she rescued from neglectful conditions. One of the foster cats was disabled, blind in one eye.

Sullivan is also an outspoken animal rights advocate who worked on successfully repealing Hazel Park’s pit bull ban before joining politics. It’s no secret in this town that if anyone would do right by the most vulnerable in society — the animals who have no voice — it would be her.

Imagine her horror, then, when she arrived home. She could see black smoke rising from her house and firefighters already inside. The police had to hold her back as she tried to rush in.

“I just ran up and started yelling. They already had a hose in, and there were police there,” Sullivan said. “They grabbed me as I tried to go in my house, and I kept yelling, ‘My dogs, my dogs, my dogs — just please get my dogs.’”

But there was no saving them: All of the animals had already died from smoke inhalation. Klobucher arrived at the scene while the first responders were still putting out the fire.

“It was absolutely horrible — one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen, to see the dogs deceased like that,” Klobucher said. “So much of Alissa’s life is wrapped up in animal rescue and foster animals and taking care of helpless, abused animals that otherwise would have been thrown away or put down. She rescues them, takes them, finds them homes. She is just so wonderfully committed to these animals and their welfare. And for this to happen to her, of all people — it’s really one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed.”

Getting back on her feet
Now Sullivan is trying to make sense of how this could happen to her pets, and in her home.

“What I have left are my friends, my family, my Jeep, my garage and the clothes on my back — literally,” Sullivan said. “I would never wish this sort of pain on anyone, ever.”

But one thing that the incident has shown her is that while life can be brutal in its randomness, the people who live in this world are, at the end of the day, more good than bad. This much is evident to her, she said, after the overwhelming outpouring of support from the community.

Tammy Pereira, of Birmingham, a friend of Sullivan’s, has set up a GoFundMe account to help Sullivan get back on her feet. It can be found at gofundme.com by searching “Alissa Sullivan.”

“Those animals were like her children — she loves them that much. That’s part of the reason I started the GoFundMe. She used to come over my house and show me pictures on her phone and tell me about the dire situations the animals had been in, and how she rescued them,” Pereira said.

“So when I heard how all of her animals died in the fire, I just sat there, stunned, trying to think of what I can do. That’s when my husband suggested GoFundMe. I put up the page around midnight the night of the fire. Then I went to bed, woke up, and by morning it had already raised $5,000.

“Now it’s close to $30,000,” Pereira said at press time. “It’s just amazing to see how much people care about her. She’s given so much to the community, and she never asks for anything. But now the people are stepping up for her in her time of need.”

Sullivan said that there are many people and groups she wants to thank, including Hazel Park Fire Chief Richard Story, the firefighters and police officers; the city manager; her friends Megan Reese, Lauren Critzon, Kelly McLaughlin, Elsie Woods, Megan Hajec, Kat Stevens and Amy Aubry; her neighbors Nettie, Joe and Nic Hill, who notified her and called for help; Amber Phillips and her family; Faithful Companion, for handling her pets’ aftercare; and Hilton Vet, Bark Nation, Dog Aide, Paws for Life, and Friends of Detroit Animal Care and Control, as well as her employer, Gusoline Alley.  

“I’m really appreciative of the support I’ve received from my friends and the community,” Sullivan said. “Everyone has been so amazing and kind and caring.”

She also said that she knows someone from Ferndale who is certified in animal CPR and who has volunteered to teach those skills to local firefighters. The HPFD already has animal oxygen masks, but lacks the certification to use them. It wouldn’t have saved Sullivan’s pets, but it might be able to help others in the future. Sullivan is also interested in bringing animal oxygen masks and animal CPR training to fire departments in neighboring cities.

“I want all families to have access to lifesaving services for pets,” Sullivan said. “My pets were my family. And while this wouldn’t have saved my pets, if it could save others, then it’s worth it.”

To donate to the GoFundMe campaign, search “Alissa Sullivan” at gofundme.com.