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New Year's fire starts at space heater


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January 09, 2014
GROSSE POINTE FARMS — First-responders consider a space heater to be the source of a three-alarm fire on the ground floor of a two-story duplex reported a half-hour before sunrise New Year's Day in the 300 block of Hillcrest.

Although officers from four departments spent two hours extinguishing the fire, beginning at about 7:30 a.m. on the 15-degree morning of Wednesday, Jan. 1, they were encumbered mostly by conditions inside the house.

"A foot of debris was strewn throughout the flat," said incident commander, Lt. Jack Patterson, of Grosse Pointe Farms public safety. "It affected our ability to get to the back room where the fire was."

Much of the litter had to do with the middle-aged male resident's many cats.

"I pulled up first," Patterson said. "There was heavy smoke pouring out."

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The resident, wearing pajama pants, stood on the porch with a neighbor whom the resident reportedly sought to call 911.

"I asked if anyone was inside," Patterson said. "He (the resident) said 'several.' I ran up to the door. At that point, he told me there was a dozen or so cats in there."

Simultaneous second and third alarms summoned three firefighters each from Grosse Pointe Shores, Grosse Pointe Woods and Harper Woods.

Along with six officers from the Farms, the force totaled 15.

As with the Farms' first fire of 2013, reported during afternoon shift change when twice as many officers than normal were on hand, this one christening 2014 broke out at an opportune time.

The Farms daily road patrol was at headquarters wrapping up morning briefing and ripe to deploy.

"I sent a couple of guys in on an attack line," Patterson said. "They knocked down a majority of the fire.

"In the meantime, Grosse Pointe Woods established a secondary water supply."

Harper Woods firefighters searched upstairs.

"Grosse Pointe Shores officers were the rapid intervention team to get my crew out, should they run into problems," Patterson said. "They breached a back door and set up a secondary means of egress for the crew inside."

At least eight members of the Farms citizen volunteer reserves provided backup. They arrived from home to assemble firefighters' breathing packs, refill air bottles, and help haul and drain hoses.

"That is an awesome group of individuals," Patterson said.

Officers contained intense flames to the room of origin.

"It was a very aggressive interior attack; a good, coordinated effort," Patterson said.

The house's frame structure predates most dwellings in the community and the fire codes required of modern construction.

Framework lacked fire breaks — horizontal inserts between vertical studs — intended to block unseen flames behind walls from spreading upward.

"It's a really dangerous type of house to fight a fire in," Patterson said. "You can knock down a fire on the bottom floor and it's already up in the attic or across to the other side."

Members of the upstairs crew opened plaster walls to discover scorched wood.

"We soaked everything and went into the attic to determine nothing got past us," Patterson said. "Due to the amount of cats in the house, we called the Grosse Pointe Animal Adoption Society," Patterson said. "It was the first time I had the pleasure of working with them. They responded almost immediately with cages."

While helping herd cats into cages on behalf of the adoption agency, a reservist suffered the main injury of the morning, a finger bite.

A representative of the society wasn't available for comment, but the group's website, gpaas.org, lists adoption fees for adult cats at $125.

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