SOUTHGATE – A fourth floor fire that started at 2 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Seaway Senior Tower displaced residents and left workers scrambling to clean up the smoke and water damage.
Firefighters from Wyandotte and Downriver Mutual Aid assisted Southgate firefighters, and the blaze was quickly extinguished.
Southgate Fire Chief Mike Sypula said Oct. 9 that one female resident remained hospitalized in Wyandotte in stable condition for symptoms related to smoke inhalation. The fire started in a man’s apartment, and his health was not impacted.
Several first responders were treated for smoke inhalation and released from the hospital after examination.
The American Red Cross housed seniors not staying with nearby relatives or friends at the Southgate Senior Center as part of an effort spearheaded by Southgate Recreation, Public Services and Public Safety employees.
On Oct. 11, Southgate Parks and Recreation Director Julie Goddard said residents of the building were still being housed at the Southgate senior center, and no timeline had been set for returning people to their apartments.
Sypula said the cause of the fire is still undetermined, but he believes it was accidental, and he said it was not caused by a smoker who nodded off.
“We have a bunch of investigators coming through from insurance companies,” he said. “What is going to happen now, is we leave it open until we compile more evidence. But nobody fell asleep.”
Sypula said about 20 to 25 people were being housed at the Civic Center until the cleaning company reports on the building’s air quality, which will determine when residents may return to their apartments.
Sypula said Oct. 9 he hoped to return some of the residents by the end of the week.
“They are working 24 hours,” Sypula said. “They keep switching out crews. The major part is the water, in the middle, underneath the fire, because of all the carpeting they are taking out.”
Sypula said the Seaway lobby, which is directly under the apartment fire, had a lot of damage.
“We can’t put people in there yet, because the lobby is torn up,” he said.
Sypula said it would have been beneficial if the apartment building had sprinklers, but when it was built, it was not required by the building code at the time. He said the apartments are Section 8 government housing, which provides a rental subsidy to landlords for qualified low-income tenants.
He said it would be nice if the building were retrofitted with a sprinkler system, but he doesn’t expect it to occur.
He said the cinderblock construction of the building, and the standpipes for fire hoses, which are an extension of the fire hydrant system, are on the staircases for each floor, which allows them to fight the fire from the hallway, and makes the building reasonably safe.
Sypula said residents in wheelchairs sheltered in place until first responders could safely evacuate them from the building.
“That is what they are supposed to be taught, to shelter in place, until we come get you,” Sypula said. “But, you know, people open their doors, and see what is going on.”
He confirmed that all residents were evacuated using the stairs, and none had to be rescued from windows using ladder trucks.
Ashley Yax, Village Green vice president of sales and marketing, said cleanup efforts include air quality testing. Residents were allowed into their apartments with accompanying personnel to retrieve personal items, like prescriptions and clothing.
“Our goal is to get the residents returned to their apartment homes as quickly and safely as possible,” Yax said.
Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa said he was pleased to see the community come together to assist with the immediate needs of the displaced seniors.
“Our public safety officers really did an outstanding job during the rescue effort, and we are truly thankful that there was no loss of life,” Kuspa said. “I would also like to thank the surrounding communities that assisted during the fire. Our Downriver Mutual Aid program is remarkable.”