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Published: Monday, 1/23/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Family waits for answers in fatal fire

Toledo department assessing discovery of body in rubble

BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Fire Chief Luis Santiago, outside the West Toledo apartments, says every floor of the building was searched. Fire Chief Luis Santiago, outside the West Toledo apartments, says every floor of the building was searched.
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After a man's body was pulled from a the rubble of a burned apartment building, Toledo fire Chief Luis Santiago asked a department deputy chief to do an assessment of the incident.

The report, which could be available early this week, is expected to provide a chronology of the Jan. 13 incident and paint a "clearer picture" of what happened.

When Chief Santiago called a city demolition crew to knock down the three-story, 12-unit West Toledo brick building, he and others at the scene had no idea that anyone was still inside.

During the fire at 3125 Meadowbrook Ct., near Central Avenue and Monroe Street, firefighters did a perimeter sweep and searched every floor of the building for residents, the chief said.

Generally, as was also the case that Friday, firefighters start the search on the floor with the fire -- the second floor in the Meadowbrook Court building. They then moved to the third and finished with the first, Chief Santiago said. Each apartment was entered, either by opening the door or by force, the chief said.

Once the fire was extinguished and prior to demolition, investigators were inside the building for a second time until they were forced out by structural instability.

Despite the search efforts and interviews with residents who made it out of the building, fire crews did not find Delano "Redd" Fleming, 35, inside his first-floor apartment. The chief said witnesses at the scene reported that every resident had been accounted for.

"We're very sorry for the loss," the chief said. "It would be tough for any family."

The Lucas County Coroner's Office has stated that Mr. Fleming died of smoke inhalation. The death cannot be ruled accidental or a homicide until the cause of the fire is determined.

Mr. Fleming's mother, June Galloway, said she misses her son -- who she said visited her every day -- but "we're all on earth for a period of time. We all have a time to go."

Still, the family is angry about the way the incident was handled. They assign blame to the fire department and the owners of the apartment building, Central Colony Apartments LLC.

"Do you just kick in the door and look in?" asked Sandra Brown, Mr. Fleming's sister who lives in Tennessee. "Were there precautionary things in place?"

Central Colony Apartments bought the building in 2006 and has a Des Plaines, Ill., address, according to the Lucas County Auditor's Web site.

Shawna Shadoan, who has owned Central Colony since 2006, said each of the building's units had a smoke detector. Chief Santiago said that, on Saturday during the search of the rubble, fire alarms inside were still beeping.

The building, Mrs. Shadoan said, was not required to have a sprinkler system, although one of the other three buildings in the immediate area does because of a remodeling after a fire years ago. She added that the electrical system had been updated recently.

It was about 4:15 a.m. Jan. 13 when Mrs. Shadoan learned that the building was on fire.

"I heard from one call … that the roof was completely on fire and sometimes you think 'That's really bad' and sometimes you think it could be exaggerated," Mrs. Shadoan said. "But I never take it lightly, a fire is a fire, so you go immediately."

Sandra Brown, left, Delano Fleming’s sister, with June Galloway, his mom, and Franchesca Fleming, another sister, says the family questions how thoroughly the fire department searched the building. Sandra Brown, left, Delano Fleming’s sister, with June Galloway, his mom, and Franchesca Fleming, another sister, says the family questions how thoroughly the fire department searched the building.
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At the scene of the blaze, everything was happening very quickly, she said. She added that there was a roster of the building's tenants at the scene, but she declined to comment further about it.

"As a landlord you just have to trust and believe that they did their job and that they did it to the best of their ability," Mrs. Shadoan said of the fire department. "They were very helpful during the time, to be honest, as fast as it all went, it went extremely fast; you just have to trust that everybody is doing their job."

Mrs. Shadoan was also at the site that Saturday during the recovery of the body.

"You just wanted answers," she said. "You wanted to give those family members some kind of answers and it was, you know, you didn't want to be selfish hoping he wasn't in there, but you wanted to give answers of comfort and peace."

Mrs. Shadoan said she and her husband have owned rental properties for a long time and little surprises her, but the fire, the demolition of the building, and finding Mr. Fleming's buried body is unlike anything she's ever had to deal with before.

"I know that from this experience, you can only learn from them and you can only become better by them," she said, adding that she will use her faith in God to get through and to help others -- including displaced tenants -- get through.

"The amount of people who did get out alive is a miracle," she said. "It could have been a lot worse. It's hard to think how much. Losing one is hard enough … but to know there were four kids saved out of there, that's awesome."

Chief Santiago said that when crews arrive at any fire, a number of things must happen almost simultaneously.

A check of the perimeter is done, the building is searched if that is possible, water lines are set, the building is ventilated, and witnesses are interviewed.

On Jan. 13, during the perimeter check, crews found that four young children were trapped in a second-floor apartment.

Firefighters rescued the children, who ranged in age from 3 to 9.

Delano ‘Redd’ Fleming was found dead in his apartment. The coroner said he died of smoke inhalation. Delano ‘Redd’ Fleming was found dead in his apartment. The coroner said he died of smoke inhalation.
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The fire spread to the third floor, compromising the structural integrity of the building, the chief said.

The chief said he called, at about 7:12 a.m., for a city demolition crew to raze the building, which was determined to be a total loss.

Although in the Jan. 13 incident the chief said he "can't for sure tell you what factors took it down," there are a number of scenarios officials weigh when deciding on demolition.

"Many times we need to demo a building to fully extinguish the fire because we can't safely go in," the chief said.

"Most important is safety to the community. If we leave a burned-out shell, it's a danger to the community. Curious kids want to play in there or adults want to go back in to get something," the chief said.

Whatever the reason, Mr. Fleming's family said crews should have waited more than only a few hours to tear down the building.

Franchesca Fleming, a sister of Mr. Fleming, said she called the Toledo police nonemergency phone number about 8 a.m. Jan. 13 to report that her brother was missing.

Ms. Fleming was reportedly told she would have to wait 24 hours to report him missing, although after another call later in the day, a crew was sent to the family's home and a missing-person report was filed.

Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan confirmed that a report was taken that evening.

Chief Santiago has said that crews at the scene did not learn of Mr. Fleming until about 4:30 p.m. Friday, more than 12 hours after the fire started.

At that point, with limited daylight, it would have been unsafe for crews to begin searching, the chief said.

About 8:30 a.m. Saturday, search crews returned to the site and were soon joined by a city excavator and two cadaver dogs.

The excavator was "almost surgical," Chief Santiago said. "He was well aware of what we were looking for."

Ms. Brown said that when Mr. Fleming's family visited the ruins, she saw her brother's shoes and the hats he loved to wear.

"It hasn't hit me yet," Ms. Brown said. "I'm more confused of what could have been done better."

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.



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