Jaycee joy: Misplaced residents allowed back

photo Assisted by volunteers, Jaycee Towers residents wait in line for the elevator as they return to their apartments Wednesday afternoon after spending two nights at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center as the result of a Monday fire.

After two nights away, displaced residents of Jaycee Towers returned home Wednesday afternoon.

EPB completed its repairs at 12:48 a.m. and restored power to the 18-story building near downtown Chattanooga.

That allowed the Chattanooga Fire Department to test the fire alarm system, backup lighting and other necessary functions to deem the downtown structure safe for occupancy after a Monday mechanical fire led to an evacuation of the building's estimated 150 residents, most of whom are elderly or disabled.

More than 60 of the building's tenants spent two nights on cots at the South Chattanooga Recreation Center where the Red Cross had set up a shelter. Meals were provided by the Salvation Army .

Residents began arriving back at Jaycee Towers on CARTA buses at 4 p.m. Wednesday, about 48 hours after being forced to leave while repair crews shut power off to the building to replace a 44-year-old transformer on the eighth floor where the fire began.

"The Red Cross put us up and they fed us real good," said Rosie Swetman, who lives on the 12th floor of Jaycee Towers with her husband. "But it was depressing at some points because I was separated from my little dog Scoobey who I love so much."

Swetman's 7-pound Maltese was among the pets housed at McKamey Animal Shelter during the Jaycee Towers' closure.

Goodwill, Coca-Cola, Little Debbie and other local agencies and businesses contributed to the efforts of the Red Cross and Salvation Army to provide for those displaced.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke visited the community center Tuesday morning and his Chief Operating Officer Jeff Cannon helped with the transition from the shelter back to Jaycee Towers on Wednesday.

Chattanooga firefighters returned to help residents carry their bags to their apartments and give a push to those in wheelchairs.

EPB spokesman John Pless said several crews remained on site part of the day Wednesday to check the other transformers that also date back to the construction of Jaycee Towers in 1970. Transformers usually last longer than the faulty one on the eighth floor did and the effort to figure out what went wrong with that one is continuing, Pless said.

The fire department had stressed Tuesday that unforeseen problems could prolong the re-opening of the building likely to today. An electrical fire at the Patten Towers building less than a mile away in May led to the discovery of several other problems.

Fire Chief William Matlock said the cautious outlook was given intentionally to avoid creating false hope for the displaced residents.

"You just never know what you may encounter next," he said.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at [email protected] or 423-757-6731.