BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The scenario is frightening: a fire in an apartment complex with vulnerable adults.
“It takes a lot longer to move them, evacuate them,” said Biloxi Fire Chief Joe Boney. “Some of them have to be moved with a stair chair or other means. So, it takes a lot longer to do. We all knew this coming into this.”
More than 75 residents had to be evacuated from the Cadet Point Senior Village Friday morning after a fire broke out in one of the apartments.
Boney said his firefighters took quick and decisive action.
“I tell you, these guys reacted very, very well. That was their primary concern was to make sure everyone was safe," Boney said.
Although the fire was contained to one apartment and caused minimal damage, Patsy Davis thinks it could have been much worse. She’s lived there for the last year, and since moving in, she’s been worried about accidents happening from people smoking.
“Some of these people don’t sleep at night, they’ll wake up, start smoking and go to sleep with a cigarette in their hand,” Davis said.
Boney did confirm the cause of the fire was due to “smoking materials.”
Even though smoking isn’t allowed in the common areas of the complex, according to management, residents are allowed to smoke in their rooms. Along with the potential hazards smoking presents, Davis said it’s not good for her health. Second-hand smoke contributed to her having cancer in her throat, and she’d like to see the smoking policy revised.
“There’s about five doors that I pass to get to my apartment door and I get smell it," she said.
Even if smoking will continue to be allowed, Davis makes a plea to her fellow residents to take their smoking outside.
“Everybody quit smoking in their apartments, in the hallway, in the elevator and quit smoking at the front entrance," she said.
The resident of the room where the fire started was treated for smoke inhalation.
Residents were evacuated to a safe space inside the public-assistance complex, which is under the management of the Biloxi Housing Authority.
“When the fire alarm went off, everybody’s evacuated we make sure that we can locate every resident, put our hands on them, talk to them, make sure everybody’s safe,” said Helen Werby, executive director of the Biloxi Housing Authority.
She gives much of the credit to firefighters.
“I cannot give enough compliments to the Biloxi Fire Department,” Werby said. “We work with them frequently and they are as good as it gets and we are so thankful and grateful for them, not just for today, but always. They do a fantastic job for us, and I’m sure they saved lives today.”
That’s including the life of 11-year resident Elvis Wilson, who lives next door to the apartment that caught fire.
“First, I heard the alarm going off, and thought it might be just another routine but it wasn’t another routine, it was for real this time,” he said. “My shoes got wet so I couldn’t put them on, so I had to grab everything I could grab and get out.”
He agreed the fire department prevented a real disaster.
“I think it’s great,” Wilson said. “They were right here. Seems like the snap of your fingers they were here. Didn’t take them long.”
Werby said that displacement will be minimal and temporary.
The sprinkler system came on, damaging some of the apartments underneath. Some residents will have to be relocated to temporary living quarters as a result.
Boney said the cause of the fire was from “smoking materials.”