Monday, January 6, 2014

Help offered to those displaced in Shelton fire

(Peter Casolino — New Haven Register) Firefighters work the scene at 446 Howe Ave in Shelton Monday morning. The fire started at around 12:30am on Monday injuring 5, and displacing around 30-people. pcasolino@NewHavenRegister

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SHELTON >> George Green lost everything he owned in an early-morning fire Monday in a four-story structure at 446 Howe Ave.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Green said, shaking his head. He had lived in the building for three years. He said he lived on the second floor and was able to help several others out of their apartments.

Firefighters were called to the blaze in downtown Shelton at about 12:30 a.m. Monday.
Authorities said everyone got out before the top floors collapsed into the middle of the century-old building, which housed restaurants and other businesses on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors.
Green and other displaced tenants were given shelter in the Echo Hose, Hook & Ladder Company firehouse.
Green has faith that things will improve for him and all who were affected by the blaze.
“God is going to get everybody back on their feet,” he said. “Everybody has to find homes.”
Green commended the firefighters. “They did a good job,” he said. “I gotta give it to them. They fed us, they did everything. They said, ‘Come in and don’t worry about anything.’”
He said cots were offered to them if they wanted to rest.

Tenant Robert Walden said he had lived in the building for seven years. He sat on a folding chair in the firehouse, waiting to find out where he would be temporarily placed.
“I’m usually the one there, helping others,” Walden said. “[Seeing all the help] is a beautiful thing.”
Residents Bob and Sheri Grier walked several blocks to Echo Hose firehouse with donations of bottled water, underwear and socks. “It’s the least we can do,” Sheri Grier said. “It’s really sad. We want to know what else is needed.”

She said she was impressed at how the community came together quickly to help the victims. She also commended Echo Hose volunteers. “We’ve been supporting this firehouse for years,” she said.
Firefighter Kevin Lankowski was in charge of the operations at the firehouse. ‘We’ve been opened up since the fire. We had to evacuate people for their safety and welfare, especially with this weather.”
There were sandwiches, pizzas, doughnuts and coffee available for the displaced.
Lankowski said there were “approximately 18” people being assisted there. “We‘re placing them with friends and family,” Lankowski said. American Red Cross emergency workers were on the scene, as was TEAM vice president Diane Stroman.
“We’re trying to assist people in finding apartments,” Stroman said. “We also will help people with any special need they might have. One of the men needs eyeglasses, and we’ll try to help him get new ones.”
Stroman said fire victims seeking assistance may call TEAM, 203-736-5420.

The fire brought back memories for resident Judith Smarz Douglas, 74, who called the building her family “homestead.” She was born in 1939 in an apartment on the second floor. She said her parents, John and Millie Smarz, raised her and her three brothers in the apartment.
Douglas’ mother lived in the building for more than 70 years until her death in 2003.
Douglas said she was heartbroken by the fire. “It’s devastating,” she said.

“It’s not a good feeling at all when we got here,” Assistant Fire Chief Nick Verdicchio said. “We had heavy fire showing from the back of the building. It started to come out the front. ... So, we just did a full-court press, trying to get these people out of here and within a half-hour we had a major collapse.”
Firefighters had to bring water to the scene in tanker trucks because of frozen hydrants and an earlier water main break.
A firetruck was damaged when a sign fell on it during the building collapse.

Authorities believe the fire started in the basement. Fire marshals are investigating the cause.

Neighboring resident Laura Oliver walked over to see the scene. She said, “I’m going to miss it. I used to get my Chinese food there, and I used to get my milk at Howe Convenient. And there was a dollar store and a flower store. My son used to work at the flower store. What a mess.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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