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Posted on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

Ann Arbor firefighter describes rescue of 2 cats from burning apartment building

By Kyle Feldscher


Ann Arbor firefighter Jason Gravelle, left, looks for a cat on the third floor while being held by another firefighter as a building burns at the Schooner Cove apartments in Ypsilanti Township Monday.

Joe Tobianski |

Jason Gravelle had a simple thought when he started climbing a ladder Monday afternoon.

Jason Gravelle

Kyle Feldscher |

“Go get the cat.”

If only it had been that easy.

Gravelle, an Ann Arbor firefighter, was climbing a ladder toward a raging fire eating away at the top two floors of a building in the Schooner Cove apartment complex in Ypsilanti Township. By the time Gravelle climbed the ladder toward the second floor of building 5086 at 1:40 p.m. Monday, the fire had destroyed the building’s roof and gutted apartments on the second and third floors.

Schooner Cove fire

Complete coverage of the fire at the Ypsilanti Township apartment complex

The cat came out relatively easy through a second-floor. Firefighters smashed the window by pushing the top of the ladder against the glass. Gravelle went up and came down a short time later, holding the grateful feline.

“He was just hiding up under the bed and we dragged him out,” Gravelle said.

Simple, no?

It was until Gravelle and the other Ann Arbor firefighters assisting him realized there was another cat trapped in the building. They barely had time to rest before a flash in a third-floor window caught the eye of bystanders on the ground.

Susan Elamon screamed and pointed out the black and white cat sitting on the window sill, peering out at the scene below.

“I was freaking, I thought he was going to die,” Elamon said.


Susan Elamon of Ypsilanti Township, center, carries a rescued cat to safety.

Joe Tobianski |

Firefighters rushed to get a bigger ladder and Gravelle and his comrades used the same technique to smash that window. This cat was in a more dangerous situation — the fire was in the process of burning away the apartment’s roof, spreading into the attic and threatening the ceiling.

Gravelle leaned in, first just poking his head through a slit in the screen. Then, his shoulders went into the room. Then, he leaned his torso through. At this point, one of the Ann Arbor firefighters holding the ladder rushed up to aid him, grabbing Gravelle by the legs and allowing him to reach into the apartment, with just his legs exposed to the cool of the afternoon.

“The fire burned through the ceiling and as far as we could get in was leaning through the window by way of the ladder,” he said. “There was a desk right there and the cat was kind of hiding under the desk.”

“We couldn’t go in because the room was on fire and they were hitting it with the aerials on top and, fortunately, the cat finally realized he wanted to come out.”

010713 _Schooner_Cove_Apartments_fire_CS-2.jpg

A woman and a man cuddle one of two cats rescued from a fire at the Schooner Cove Apartments in Ypsilanti Township Monday.

Courtney Sacco |

“He came out just as the roof was starting to come down.”

Gravelle said the roof started to fall in and a large piece of drywall coming loose and hitting the floor was the last bit of convincing the kitty needed to come into his hands.

Gravelle held the cat in his arms while he came down the ladder, eventually handing it over to Elamon, who wrapped it in a blanket provided by another woman. Elamon took the cat to the leasing office of the complex.

By late Monday evening, all pets were accounted for, said Kelly Gorski, associate director of operations for McKinley, that company that owns the complex.

Speaking to about an hour after the rescue, Gravelle shrugged the incident off. The ceiling was collapsing, debris was falling in the room and Gravelle was reaching under a desk to save a cat.

“Yeah," he said. "Nothing major.”

Watch a WXYZ video of the cat rescue below:

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



Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:48 p.m.

Firefighters are just freakin' awesome.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

Thanks for your service.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

Dear Mr. Gravelle, on behalf of all animal lovers, thank you!


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

Congratulations to the humanitarian Ann Arbor firefighters to rescue someone's cats! They don't have to risk their lives on such missions of mercy. They only do it because they are kind human beings who realize the value of all life and how special many people regard their pets. Thanks from all pet owners!


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.

Thank you AAFD!


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 4:22 a.m.

Two cats. What heroes. I can only imagine what the headline would be if a firefighter died trying to save two cats. I guess things worked out this time - I know I know. I'm the eh whole. But...they're cats.


Wed, Jan 9, 2013 : 1 p.m.

Kyle- your writing aside, we did actually "face the possibility" of the firefighters dying in their rescue attempts; however that "possibility" did not play out. Regarding pets, I have a dog. He is not capable of living a feral life outside of what we provide for him, unlike 100% of non-disabled cats. @ Boo Radley- Nice cat picture. PS, your cat is just using you for food and shelter. It probably trolls other people's properties daily while you aren't looking.

Boo Radley

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 4:25 p.m.

I think these firefighters are professional enough to be able to determine when their level of risk to their own lives is too great, no matter what living creature they are trying to rescue. The comment "But...they're cats" is just a comment of a troll.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

Thank you Kyle.

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

That's pretty morose, GoNavy. Luckily, we didn't have to face that possibility. As much as you think "... they're cats," they're someone's pets and a big part of those people's lives.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:36 a.m.

What a lovely story. Thank you Mr. Gravelle.

Unusual Suspect

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:20 a.m.

I guess this is one thing, with the cats being right near a window, but I don't expect firefighters to risk heir lives going after pets. Yes, including mine -- I don't consider the life of my pet to be anywhere near the value of a firefighter's life.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2 a.m.

Thank you for helping out those people and saving those cats! I hope, should it ever happen, that I will get someone like Gravelle to rescue my cats. And then me. Because I'll be trying to save them too.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 1:28 a.m.

That "woman" on the left in the picture at the bottom is a man, me.

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

iamdigitalman - Our apologies for the mishap in the photo caption. I've updated the caption and I apologize for the delay.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:13 p.m.

I know I was shocked to see that comment too!! How is the kitty


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:44 a.m.

@AnnArbor.Com - maybe you could be so kind as to update the caption?

Aralia Almendral-Todd

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 1:26 a.m.

I want to say thank you to the firefighter who located my cat one the first floor of apartments.

Boo Radley

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 1:11 a.m.

"If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat" - Robert Heinlein


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:01 a.m.

"I never trust anyone who doesn't like cats." -me


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 12:54 a.m.

Susan is my daughter in-law and we are very proud of her for doing what she could to save the cats.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:12 p.m.

Thank you Mom that means alot to me!!!


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:26 p.m.

You know my heart goes out to my neighbors it is a very sad day here but on the brightside NO one was hurt not even an animal, I did everything in my power to make sure of that, the cat in the 3rd floor apartment was jumping at the window to get out, I saw that and had to start screaming get the kitty, I knew all the people were safe and the animals needed saving now!! Thank you Fire Fighter Jason Gravelle, you are my hero!!! Thanks for saving my neighbors cat. All the firemen are my hero's today THANK YOU ALL so very much for the hard work!!!

Silly Sally

Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:17 p.m.

Please follow up on this story. I'd like to know how the fire started and whey it spread so fast. Was the attic open? I'm glad no one was hurt and that an effort was made to save the cats. I'm also glad that they had good quality ladders, not ones made in China.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:41 a.m.

Even better if they were from by Ypsilanti's own Michigan Ladder.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:02 p.m.

Really? This is what my taxes are going to? Cats? Get some more at the pound, socialists.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 5:39 p.m.

Ignore the troll folks.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

can't believe you're a Republican.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:59 p.m.

Oh come on, Republican is only trying to upset us, and he or she has succeeded. Ignore.

Sarah MacDonald

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

Sometimes people cannot have children and therefore their cats are their children. So by not saving them is like not saving a child from a burning building.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 1:52 p.m.

We should be lucky that there are decent people who care for ALL living creatures in this community. How mean-spirited of you, shame on you!


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 3:47 a.m.

Great job Firefighters. Now, I don't care if it is a cat, dog, child or adult. These great men and women who are firefighters are heroes for saving people and pets. Bye the way, don't become a firefighter.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

@Republican - excellent impersonation!


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 12:53 a.m.

It's obvious you're not an animal lover whether dogs or cats. I for one am very happy they rescued them.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 12:33 a.m.

"Republican" sounds more like a troll than a valid poster. Regardless, I've never trusted anyone who doesn't like animals. Always found people like that a bit too sociopathic or something.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:57 p.m.

Awwe. He doesn't have any votes. It's ok, Republican. We see you're trying.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:49 p.m.



Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:27 p.m.

You must not be a cat lover or an animal lover to some people that is all they have

Andrea Zastrow

Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:26 p.m.

If they're willing to go after someone's house pet, I can only imagine what they'd do for someone's child. As a taxpayer, I for one, am grateful that my tax dollars support people who are that good, both inside and out.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 10:48 p.m.

Thank you for rescuing these cats. I hope the other missing animals are found safe and sound.


Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

"I have a tenant I had to stress fire safety to and he is still struggling with it." I think he would be struggling finding a new place to live if he were my tenant.

Sarah MacDonald

Tue, Jan 8, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

I have a tenant I had to stress fire safety to and he is still struggling with it. I am so scared to lose my cat and after seeing this, made me realize how much I need to come up with some plan of action in educating him. I do not want to lose my Mia. I live in a historical house which will be to the ground much faster and rescue will not be an option.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:29 p.m.

All animals were rescued


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 10:46 p.m.

I am so glad that no people (including firefighters) were hurt, but my heart is breaking for the animals who did not make it out and the twelve families who lost a part of their lives this afternoon.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:30 p.m.

All animals made it