April 19, 2014

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Antlers residents stuck on roof because fire escape was removed


LORAIN – Firefighters rescued six people, including a 2½-year-old boy, from the rooftop of the smoke-filled Antlers Apartments building Monday afternoon.

BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE
A Lorain firefighter reaches for 2-year-old Cairo Elliott, who was stranded on a roof at the Antlers Apartments on Monday after a fire forced the evacuation of the child and his family.

The residents were trapped on the roof about 15 feet above ground after thick, black smoke blocked the stairwell of the historic Washington Avenue building, and a fire escape ladder was missing.

Damian Elliott, 28, said he heard the building`s fire alarm go off about 2:30 p.m., so he and his wife threw a coat, hat and gloves on his 2½-year-old son, Cairo Elliott, and left their second-floor apartment.

“As I got closer to the stairwell door, I could see more and more smoke and, when I opened it, smoke just started rushing at me,” Damian Elliott said.

Running out of options, he rushed his family to a side door that opened onto the roof over a stretch of the building`s first-floor apartments and waited, shivering, as firefighters battled the blaze. It was 30 minutes before firefighters could rescue his family as well as three other residents who huddled together to stay warm.

The fire began on the first floor in Apartment 104, said Lorain Fire Chief Tom Brown.

Russell Brown, who lives in that apartment, said a space heater in a back bedroom likely short-circuited and caused the blaze.

Russell Brown, no relation to the fire chief, said he tried to put out the flames using a pot full of water, but the fire kept growing, so he and his wife grabbed their coats and raced outside to call 911.

“I probably lost everything,” Russell Brown said as his wife sat in their car in the Antlers` parking lot with oxygen tubes in her nose. He said they`ll likely stay with his son in Lorain for the time being.

About 20 people, most of whom lived in the apartments near the front of the building, made it safely outside. Two residents were taken to Community Regional Medical Center because of smoke inhalation, the fire chief said. Their names were not available Monday, but LifeCare spokesman Herb de la Porte said their injuries were minor.

Lorain fire Capt. Tom Sultzer said Russell Brown`s apartment was declared unlivable due to heavy smoke and fire damage. The entire first floor also suffered heavy smoke damage, but residents were allowed to return to their apartments, although firefighters encouraged them to go elsewhere.

“We tried to discourage them,” Sultzer said.

The upper floors of the building were relatively unscathed, he said.

The building has apartments in front and townhouses in the back, which are separated from each other by a stairwell. It was the residents of the townhouses, whose only access to the building`s two front doors was through the smoky stairwell, who had difficulty escaping.

An escape ladder on the side rooftop was taken down over the summer, residents said. The top half of the ladder still sat at the edge of the roof.

“All I was thinking about while I was up there was, ‘Man I wish they wouldn`t have taken down that ladder,` ” Damian Elliott said.

The building`s owner, local real estate developer Jon Veard, could not be reached for comment Monday night. Fire Chief Brown and Chief Building Inspector Bill Desvari said they would look into why the fire escape ladder was removed.

Desvari said that a building must have two exits on different levels, and the Antlers Apartments fulfill that requirement, having one exit on the ground level and one off Washington Avenue.

Todd Lash, 49, has lived in the apartment building for a year. He said he has complained to building management several times that the fire escape ladder was taken down. He also was trapped on the roof.

“Having that (the ladder) would have been nice, huh?” he said, snickering. “That should be up there.”

The Antlers Apartments building has a storied history in Lorain and is one the city`s more recognizable buildings, in part because it sits not far from City Hall. It was built in 1922 as the Antlers Hotel, and it is listed on the Historic Register.

In addition to the apartments and the townhouses, it also has a ballroom and several small businesses on its lower level, the conditions of which were not known Monday night.

Contact Adam Wright at 653-6257 or awright@chroniclet.com.