published Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Another downtown Chattanooga high-rise evacuated after fire; residents sent to shelter

For the second time in less than a year, an electrical fire has forced the evacuation of scores of residents — primarily the elderly and disabled — from a downtown high-rise and sent them to emergency shelters.

A mechanical room fire on the eighth floor of the 18-story Jaycee Towers building in the Golden Gateway started close to 11:30 a.m. Monday, according to Bruce Garner, spokesman for the Chattanooga Fire Department. Smoke permeated parts of the building, eventually causing a full evacuation as power was kept off so EPB crews could perform repairs that were expected to continue into today.

With elevators disabled, firefighters physically assisted some of the approximately 150 residents down the stairs in the afternoon to buses waiting to take them to the South Chattanooga Recreation Center where the Red Cross rushed to prepare for those who could not find alternate arrangements.

Doug Chinery, secretary treasurer of Jaycee Corp., which owns Jaycee Towers, said the plan is for residents to return to the building today once repairs are complete and the power restored.

Fire and safety inspection records for the building were not immediately available Monday. Firefighters responded to Jaycee Towers 127 times in 2013, records show.

The situation caused flashbacks to May 2013 for the Red Cross, which came to the aid of misplaced Patten Towers residents when an electrical fire there sent 241 evacuated residents to a Red Cross shelter at the Brainerd Recreational Center.

Residents did not return to Patten Towers for four weeks and provided the Red Cross with plenty of opportunity to fine-tune its procedures for providing emergency relief.

"We learned a lot from [Patten Towers]," said Greg Waite, chief executive officer of the Southeast Tennessee chapter of the Red Cross. "We learned that working together with the 32 agencies that are in this city was beautiful. So coming into this one, within the first hour, we called down to all the different agencies to say, 'This is what we've got, this is what we're doing. Be on standby for whatever may pop up.'"

  • photo
    Anna Baker, left, with McKamey Animal Care and Adoption Center, gets information from Jaycee Towers resident Marcia Perry before taking Perry's dogs, Ben and Ghetto Girl, to the center for safe keeping. Jaycee Towers residents were displaced Monday by an electrical fire.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

Volunteers unloaded trucks filled with cots and supplies outside the community center in the hours before misplaced Jaycee Towers residents began arriving on CARTA buses.

An around-the-clock nursing station was being set up that would be manned by volunteer nurses and UTC nursing students.

By 5:30 p.m. Waite said 58 displaced people had checked in at the shelter and that more were on their way. The Salvation Army helped provide dinner. Coca-Cola and Little Debbie donated drinks and snacks.

McKamey Animal Center took temporary charge of about 10 pets belonging to Jaycee Towers residents.

One resident, Charlie Hall, stood outside Jaycee Towers on Monday afternoon pondering his next move. The 65-year-old lives on the building's 13th floor.

"Lucky number 13," said Hall who has been a resident for about a year and a half. He was leaning toward staying at the Red Cross shelter as his elderly and disabled neighbors made their way to the buses about 3 p.m.

"I reckon," he said. "I ain't got nowhere else to go."

Hall said he had just bought $150 worth of food. He hoped the perishable items would still be good by the time he is allowed to return to his apartment.

Waite, of the Red Cross, was hoping for the best but preparing for whatever comes.

"We saw how Patten Towers was," Waite said as workers set up the shelter around him. "They said it was going to be a couple of hours. That turned into 24 hours, [and] that turned into 10 days, but this is why we do what we do."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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