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High-rise blaze leaves residents from 10 apartments displaced

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A fire at Marshall Manor Apartment building in Uniontown has displaced residents from 10 units, a Fayette County Housing Authority spokesman said Friday.

Phil Jones, administrator for senior high rises, said Friday that he believed one resident remained hospitalized after the fire at the East Main Street building Thursday night.

City fire Chief Chuck Coldren said that five people, including a firefighter and a police officer, were taken to Uniontown Hospital following the blaze that erupted at 7 p.m.

The firefighter remained hospitalized for smoke inhalation Friday morning, but his status was not available.

The cause of the fire “is probably going to be accidental,” Coldren said. “It is under investigation by the state police fire marshal.”

Police Chief Jason Cox said Officer John Kauer was treated for smoke inhalation Thursday night and discharged. “He is in fine condition,” Cox said.

Some of the residents with medical conditions had to be carried down the stairs, while others needed assistance, Cox said.

Kauer “was on a floor with extensive smoke and helping to evacuate,” Cox said.

Most of about 90 residents were able to return to their apartments hours after the fire was extinguished.

Those in the 10 apartments on the seventh floor, where the blaze started, were unable to immediately return, Coldren said.

“We are very pleased with the way the system worked. We were afraid at first that we would have to place a lot of people,” Jones said.

Everyone in the subsidized housing building is over age 50 and some suffer from various disabilities, Jones said.

One woman, who lived in a unit across the hall from where the fire began, had a niece and her male friend visiting at the time of the fire.

“She is an elderly, handicapped lady. I think the man was trying to help put out the fire. To my knowledge, she (resident) is still hospitalized,” he said.

Two residents were taken to a hotel, while the others are staying with relatives or friends, Jones said.

“We are looking at vacancies in some of our other buildings. That does not mean they would want to move there,” Jones said.

The seventh-floor apartment where the fire began in a bedroom “is pretty much wiped out,” he said.

Two apartments on other floors sustained damage, Jones said.

A restoration company is working to make the damaged apartments habitable, he said.

After the woman in the seventh-floor apartment realized the extent of the fire, she exited the building, leaving the apartment door open, Coldren said. “If the door had been closed, it could have kept the fire isolated to that apartment,” he said.

Instead, smoke billowed out into hallway, he said.

The fire department holds several training visits each year with the high-rise residents, Coldren said.

“We have fireproof doors. If they stay inside and put wet towels under the door, firefighters will come to everyone ... and check all rooms,” Jones said.

Signs throughout housing authority properties note that elevators are not to be used in case of fire, he said.

As soon as the main fire alarm goes off, the elevator goes to the first floor, the door opens and it becomes inoperable, Jones said.

After it was determined that it was safe to use the elevators, housing authority staff accompanied residents to their apartments to retrieve necessities Thursday.

On Friday, “we have been escorting them in to get anything they might need, such as clothing,” Jones said.

Residents are not permitted to have space heaters, and smoking is not permitted in common areas.

Smoking is allowed in individual apartments, Jones said.

“We are getting around to probably putting in place a ‘no smoking' policy. It's a great idea,” he said.

Coldren said residents' relatives rushed to the scene, and phones could be heard ringing in evacuated apartments.

“It got chaotic at one point,” he said.

Residents were taken to a first-floor community room, where a head count was taken.

“It went really well. My guys all did a terrific job, along with Hopwood and South Union firefighters. It went pretty smoothly,” Coldren said.

Uniontown Salvation Army volunteers provided refreshments to residents and firefighters at the scene.

American Red Cross spokeswoman Lauren Ashley said the agency assisted two residents with food, clothing and shelter.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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