Woman rescued from Packard Street fire by police: 'They risked their lives'
Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com
Ann Arbor police Officer David Ried and his partner were patrolling south of Stadium Boulevard at 9:03 p.m. Jan. 13 when a call came across the radio that a fire had broken out at an apartment building at 1310 Packard St.
Though it was out of his patrol district, Ried immediately responded.
“We were the first car there,” he said. “Flames were shooting out the big bay windows.”
Police generally arrive on scene to assist with traffic control and back up firefighters. But since the call had just gone out moments before, fire crews had not yet arrived.
And a woman in one of the third-floor unit windows needed help. Her son had already escaped the blaze and was down on the sidewalk saying his mother was still up in the apartment.
“He was telling me that she was trapped,” Ried said.
Officer Jeffrey Shafer and partner Officer Roman Morrow arrived soon after Ried.
“We were looking up at the lady, listening to her scream,” Shafer recalled.
The officers said they tried to get the woman to jump out of the window, three floors down, to where they were waiting to catch her.
“She didn’t want to do it,” Ried said. “She was hanging out of the window smoke coming from her apartment.”
That’s when Ried, Morrow and Shafer made the collective decision to run up the outdoor stairwell to the woman’s apartment door.
“The only thing going through my mind was getting her out of there,” Shafer said. “It was more or less instinct than anything else.”
The three were met by a wall of smoke.
“We couldn’t even see her door because of all the black smoke,” Ried said.
Shafer put it a different way.
“It looked like someone was spraying black spray paint into our faces,” he said.
The officers called out to the woman, told her to get low and come to the door so they could get her out, but she wouldn’t move.
Ried, Shafer and Morrow decided it was too dangerous and ran back down the stairwell. When they reached the first level; however, they heard her come out of the apartment and say she couldn’t see anything, according to a police report.
The three officers raced back up the stairs. When senior Ann Arbor police Officer Pete Tsangaris arrived, he saw the officers in motion.
“The fire was kicking,” he said. “I saw the guys sprinting up the stairs. “
Tsangaris followed his fellow officers up the stairs, where they again encountered heavy smoke.
“I could hear her yelling,” Ried said. “I held my breath, went through the smoke and held my hand out. I just wanted to get her out.”
Ried felt his fingertips graze her clothing. He grabbed the woman and pulled her toward him. Morrow and Ried escorted her down the stairs to safety.
The woman was immediately delivered to a waiting ambulance. Fire crews had also arrived and started working to extinguish the blaze.
All four officers visited the hospital that evening and were treated for smoke inhalation. They were all eventually released.
“I was coughing pretty good,” Ried said.
Five residents in total were also taken to the hospital. Firefighters rescued an additional two people from the building. Officials from the Ann Arbor Fire Department declined a request to be interviewed for this story.
Police generally serve as backup at fires - blocking off roads and managing the crowd -- but higher ranking Ann Arbor police officials say its up to the discretion of the responding officers to determine if they need to spring into action.
This was one of those times.
“I think it was incredible. I wouldn’t have changed what we did,” said Lt. Ed Dreslinski. “What they did was heroic, but at the same time dangerous. They did a hell of a job.”
In the end, their quick action may have saved a woman’s life.
‘Come out fast, fast, fast’
From Eastern Michigan University's website
Sema Kalaian said Nabeel Kalaian was playing video games while she was working on her laptop when they smelled smoke.
“I looked around the apartment,” she said. “I told my son, ‘There’s something wrong here.’”
The two put on their coats and went for the door, but when they opened it, they were met by “dense, black smoke,” Sema Kalaian said.
“It was impossible to go through it,” she added.
Nabeel Kalaian, however, made his way out.
“He ducked,” she said. “I couldn’t go through that, because it was impossible to see anything. I couldn’t breathe.”
Sema Kalaian went back into the apartment and shut the door and opened the windows to let in some air.
Once down on the street, Nabeel Kalaian informed arriving police that his mother was in the apartment.
“I don’t know how they came through the smoke,” Sema Kalaian said about the officers. “They said (to) come out fast, fast, fast.”
When she heard police shouting for her, Kalaian said she opened the door and went out into the smoke, where the officers took hold of her and got her down to the ambulance.
The cause of the fire has been ruled “undetermined” by the Ann Arbor Fire Department, according to a report obtained by AnnArbor.com through the Freedom of Information Act.
From the Ann Arbor Fire Department
“(I) came into the living area and fire was blazing in (the) counter area near (the) stove,” the tenant told fire officials for the report. “The area to the left of the stove was (a) trash collection area with paper bags in a cardboard box. (The) stove had been on, cooking soup. (I) do not know how paper bag started, but cabinetry had become scorched. (The) smoke alarm did not sound until fire (was) well under way. (I) took the phone and called 911. (I) pounded on apartment doors.”
Fire officials said there were “an enormous amount of books and magazines” in the tenant's apartment that had gone up in the fire. The kitchenette had the heaviest damage and appeared to be where the fire started, according to the report.
Officials concentrated their investigation in that kitchen, including the stove where the tenant said he had been cooking soup.
“The pot did not appear to be scorched on the bottom that would be consistent with an empty pot being left on a hot burner for an extended period of time,” according to the report. “It was also determined that all the temperature controls for the stovetop were in the off position.”
The investigation revealed the fire didn’t have a mechanical or electrical origin, though debris removed from the area of the kitchenette most badly burned turned up several loose cigarettes, according to the report.
While the cause of the fire was ruled undetermined, the report also indicated that it “cannot be proven or disproven that the source of ignition was caused by incendiary means.”
‘They risked their lives’
Sema Kalaian said everything in her son’s apartment was black from smoke damage. For the three days following the fire, she and Nabeel Kalaian stayed at a hotel courtesy of the Red Cross.
“Without them, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” she said.
The Highway Company International owns the building, according to city records. The company did not return phone calls.
AnnArbor.com has reported that the building had a history of code violations.
“It was in violation when we signed the lease,” Sema Kalaian said. Her son has lived in the apartment since the fall of 2011. Sema Kalaian lives in Okemos near Lansing and usually stayed in Ann Arbor with her son a couple of days a week. Being displaced by the fire meant a lot of commuting back and forth, which translated into a lot of extra gas.
Nabeel Kalaian has finally found an efficiency apartment to stay in as mother and son continue piecing together their lives a few weeks after the fire.
As for the Ann Arbor police officers who ran up to save her that night, Sema Kalaian said she is grateful to them.
“I appreciate what they’ve done,” she said. “They risked their lives.”