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Fire heavily damages apartments

By Kathy Chaffin and Wayne Hinshaw
Salisbury Post
SPENCER ó The courageous response of two police officers and a passerby
here may have saved residents of Rock Haven Apartments from injury or
worse after a fire broke out in apartment No. 4 late Saturday night.
Spencer police officers Nicholas Pacilio and Steve Bard and passerby
Kent Ryan ran from door to door of the nine-unit apartment complex
making sure all the residents got out. Pacilio suffered smoke
inhalation at the scene and was transported to Rowan Regional Medical
Center, where he was treated and released.
Spencer Police Chief Robert Bennett said Bard also had some difficulty
breathing due to the smoke, but was able to remain on the scene.
Bennett said he was proud of the quick response of his officers.
“It’s this type of exceptional conduct that I think shows how special a
department can be,” he said. “The officers could have stood by and
waited for the fire department to get there, but they were concerned
about the possible occupants.
“Just like police officers and firefighters do every day, instead of
staying away from the danger, they went into the danger.”
Spencer Fire Chief Jay Baker said the Rowan County 911 center received
multiple calls about the fire at Rock Haven Apartments, located at 221
N. Salisbury Ave. beside the Food Lion shopping center, beginning
around 10:20 p.m.
When the Spencer Fire Department arrived on the scene, he said,
apartment No. 4 was fully involved and the fire was spreading to the
other units. Baker said all the residents were safely outside when they
arrived.
He also commended the efforts of the police officers and Ryan. “I can’t
say enough about ‘service above self,’ helping to get our citizens out
alive,” he said.
The three-alarm fire started in apartment No. 4 at the end of one of
the three, three-unit buildings in the complex and spread to the other
end. The fire also spread to one of the adjacent buildings through the
attic, he said, though the damage in the second building, which houses
Apartments 1-3, was not as severe.
Firefighters from Spencer, two of the four Salisbury city stations,
Miller’s Ferry, Ellis Cross Country, Franklin and Granite Quarry had
the fire under control within an hour, Baker said. Rowan Rescue and the
Rowan County Fire Marshal’s Office also assisted at the scene. Baker
said the fire started in the kitchen of the apartment. The occupants
had been cooking, he said, and there appeared to be a problem with the
exhaust fan.
Deborah Horne, fire inspector/investigator for the Rowan County Fire
Marshal’s Office, said the investigation will resume today, but that
the fire appeared to have originated in the exhaust fan, which was
mounted in the ceiling above the stove.
Elton Streater, who lived in apartment No. 3 in the building adjacent
to where the fire started, said he was at home Saturday night when he
smelled smoke. “I thought it was cigarette smoke being pulled in by the
air conditioner,” he said. “I walked outside and then I saw the flames
coming from Apartment 4.”
Streater said a policeman met him outside his door telling him to get
out of the apartment. He has lived in Rock Haven Apartments for four to
five years and had taken out a renter’s insurance policy on his
belongings.
The Hanford-Dole Chapter of the American Red Cross arranged for the
residents of apartments 1-7 to stay in the Travel Lodge on Jake
Alexander Boulevard. Apartments 8 and 9 were not damaged by the fire,
and the residents opted to remain.
Levi Short, who lives in apartment No. 8, said he was getting ready to
go to bed Saturday night when a police officer knocked on his door and
told him to evacuate the apartment. When he first got outside, Short
said he saw smoke coming out of the roof vents above apartment No. 4.
“I didn’t see any flames or anything,” he said.
Short watched firefighters battle the fire from the shopping center
parking lot and wasn’t allowed back in his apartment until around 2
a.m.
Sunday afternoon, he said he was fortunate his apartment was not
damaged. “It just smells a little smoky, that’s all,” he said.
A former resident of Arkansas, 19-year-old Short moved to Rowan County
to attend Pit Crew University in Mooresville, from which he recently
graduated. He works at Southern States on Jake Alexander Boulevard and
is applying for jobs with various NASCAR race teams.
Spencer Chief Jay Baker said he was pleased with the efforts of the
fire departments and rescue personnel. Several firefighters suffered
from heat exhaustion because of the high humidity and sweltering
temperatures, he said, but all were treated on the scene. “Nobody was
transported.”
Baker said the heat factor was one reason for the three-alarm call.
Firefighters wear out quicker in extremely hot weather, he said, so
it’s important to have enough personnel to keep replacing them.
Considering how hot it was and the fact that “the fire had a good start
on us,” Baker said he was pleased with the response of firefighters.
“The crews got there and made an interior attack with the conditions
they had to work with,” he said. “The mutual aid went well …
Everybody did an excellent job.”
Horne said Baker did an excellent job as fire command and that all the
departments did an outstanding job on the scene.
Because the apartments are mainly rented to occupants 55 and older, she
said firefighters and investigators from the Fire Marshal’s Office
remained on the scene longer than they would have otherwise so they
could go into each apartment and retrieve medication and necessities
for the displaced residents.
North Salisbury Avenue was blocked for two hours while firefighters put
out the fire.
A footnote: After leaving the fire scene, Spencer Police Chief Robert
Bennett said, Officer Steve Bard had to be at Rowan Regional Medical
Center by 6 a.m., where obstetricians planned to induce labor on his
wife. By now, Bennett said Sunday afternoon, Bard and his wife should
have a new baby girl.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249 or kchaffin@salisburypost.com.

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