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Posted on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Woman rescued from Packard Street fire by police: 'They risked their lives'

By John Counts


The scene of a fire at 1310 Packard St. in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Jan. 13.

Daniel Brenner I

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.


Officer David Ried


Ofc. Roman Morrow


Officer Jeffrey Shafer


Officer Pete Tsangaris

“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’


Sema Kalaian

From Eastern Michigan University's website

That woman is 60-year-old Sema Kalaian, a statistics professor at Eastern Michigan University. The apartment was rented for her son, 20-year-old Nabeel Kalaian, a University of Michigan sophomore majoring in engineering.

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.

Cause undetermined

The cause of the fire has been ruled “undetermined” by the Ann Arbor Fire Department, according to a report obtained by through the Freedom of Information Act.


The inside of an apartment damaged in the fire

From the Ann Arbor Fire Department

The fire started in the apartment of a tenant who was in the bathroom smoking a cigarette when he smelled the smoke, according to the report.

“(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. 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.”

John Counts covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.


Person of Emet

Fri, Feb 8, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.

Great job PD. I hope you would consider the same actions if you show up at my home before the FD does. If I am not mistaken, the FD rescue 4 persons, not 2. Also, interesting to see the differences in leadership from the PD to FD. PD=praise of officers, FD=crickets from administration.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

Every officer than ran into the fire knew in the back of his mind that he might not come out, and each did it anyway. Every one of them has family -- mom, dad, sisters, brothers, maybe spouses and/or kids -- who know every day that a split second-decision, unforseeable and irreversible, might mean that they never see their loved son, brother, husband or father again. Each one of themcould just as easily have been severely injured, maimed or burned, especially since they don't have any of the protective gear or breathing apparatus of a firefighter. Remember this the next time you hear people railing about public safety pensions. This is exactly why they earn and deserve that security after they have served.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 10:32 p.m.

I agree with you 100%!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

I applaud the firemen, but I wish would indicate in the headline that this is about a previous incident. I thought the same thing when I saw the story about the previous accident yesterday. Both articles made me think the fire and accident had just happened.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 5:02 p.m.

I mean policemen.

John Counts

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:42 p.m.

I appreciate the kind comments on this story. All first responders in Washtenaw County do a great job -- police officers, firefighters, paramedics -- and deserve to be publicly recognized for their deeds. I agree the audio is very harrowing. I think it offers just a glimpse of what these responders deal with all the time. There are plenty of instances when they are just doing their jobs under these kinds of intense circumstances and the audio is not available. Whenever possible, we will try and tell these kinds of stories. I'm thankful the officers and the woman who was rescued, Sema Kalaian, chose to share their story with me.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:36 p.m.

How about a picture of all the firefighters that rescued people!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:24 p.m.

AAFD personnel should not be represented/limited by one voice.

John Counts

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:12 p.m.

Hi hotpotato. As noted, the Ann Arbor Fire Department did not want to participate in this story. I spoke with Chief Chuck Hubbard and he said firefighters believe rescuing people is part of their job and they generally don't want any extra attention for just doing their job. The police officers had this general feeling as well and some, like officer Roman Morrow, choose not to be interviewed. I think everyone would have liked to get the AAFD side of the story, but you can't help but respect their quiet-but-courageous approach to their occupation.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

Wow. good to know that "Tank" Tsangaris is still out there! Hey Pete, don't know if you remember me but you used to work the S. University neighborhood when I was working at the Burger King(now Starbucks)! Ah, the good ole days......good job, aafd and aapd!

Kyle Feldscher

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

Great work all around by the police officers, firefighters and John here. It's always amazing to me how instinctual first responders are in these cases. I'd like to think most people would be the same way, but it really takes special people to be able to charge into a burning building and save someone they don't know.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

Any updates on those code violations? I know that some council members were asking questions about that. Of course not the council members from the ward where the fire actually occurred. Gee, I wonder what ward that would be?


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

disagree... vindictive?


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 2 p.m.

Lesson here? Listen to the first responders. I understand not wanting to jump from a 3rd story window, but my heart was in my throat when I read that the victim would not leave the apartment when the police came to get her. If you are ever in a situation like this, remember time is of the essence and first responders have people at home who love and care for them. Listen to them so you can survive and they can, too.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

Excellent work by our brave AAPD officers. I have so much respect for our police and firefighters. Truly brave & courageous men and women. Thank you seems so inadequate for people like AAPD & AAFD - who risk their lives daily to keep us all safe.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:33 p.m.

Excellent reporting John. This truly brings the terror of the situation into clear focus. Thank God no one was killed. How can anyone not have respect for the brave people who chose to protect us? Thank you.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

Awesome work by AAPD heroes. The City of Ann Arbor leadership has to get priorities lined up in a logical manner. Citizens know what the priorities are; why doesn't City of Ann Arbor leadership? Sure, one of the tenants was negligent, but where is the City of Ann Arbor on the top priority of the Management of Slumlords? Code Violation records and Certificates of Occupancy (required of landlords) are Public Record. An enterprising Internet Webbie could quite easily access those public records and set-up a Website. A person apartment hunting would benefit from access to that Vital Information. Furthermore, where is the Ann Arbor Board of Realtors on this problem? Let's hear from their leaders. It ain't gonna go away. Folks, let's get in gear!


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:38 p.m.

AAPD heros, so. Where are the kudos to the AAFD heros? Let's look at the WHOLE story.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:52 p.m.

This is so intense. Best thing has ever posted. Got my blood pumping this morning lol


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

Good reporting....and fascinating audio, you are right, Paula.

Paula Gardner

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:36 p.m.

We don't use a lot of audio on this site, but do in this story - the 'play' button is right under the top photo. I found it riveting. It was both fast-moving and urgent, but in a strange way time also stood still for me as a listener. Those 2 minutes must have feel like forever for the officers and Sema Kalaian.

Tom Teague

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 6:12 p.m.

Thanks John. Good job editing that. It's very compelling. Thanks also for the FOIA information.

John Counts

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:26 p.m.

Hi Tom Teague: I FOIAed the police report and the dashboard camera footage from two patrol cars from the AAPD. The way cameras and audio work in a car is that the camera records the images and the officer has a mic on them that records audio. In the raw footage of the video, the patrol car is parked facing a street away from the fire as you hear officer Tsangaris responding to the fire. I simply separated the audio from the footage, and then edited the video together without sound because in Tsangaris' car it was mostly sirens. Ried's audio was not activated, so their was no sound. As for the cause of the fire, officials will generally tell us when the investigation is concluded, but in this case we had FOIAed the fire report already, so we gleaned the information from there.

Tom Teague

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:46 p.m.

Paula - it is dramatic. Could you tell us how the recording was made? And does it really take FOIA to get information on the cause of a fire?


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:30 p.m.

Great job AAPD! How many people would run into a burning building? I know we all like to think we would, but these officers actually did it.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 4:55 p.m.

@hotpotato, not to take ANYTHING away from firefighters and the work they do, but a) they are professionals, and b) they have protective gear that the police in this case did not.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Run into a burning buildings? Fire fighters do it everyday.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

Whats with all the fires?


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 3:40 p.m.

Just be glad the tower was in service. Guess what the possibilities are when it isn't going to be.

Tom Teague

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:47 a.m.

Well done officers. Thank you.


Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

AAPD and AAFD are awesome -- be safe and take care.