Community Comes Together To Aid New Street Fire Victims

Find Out How You Can Help

By Emanuela Lima

For the Danbury Housing Partnership

On January 16, one of the coldest nights of the year, a blaze tore through a downtown Danbury apartment building, leaving 42 people homeless, 15 of which are children under the age of 18.

The building at 7 New St. had 13 apartments and was only one vacant lot away from the city's fire department headquarters.

The fire broke out at about 6:30 p.m. Fire officials said at least 50 firefighters were on the scene when the flames burst through the roof and shot more than 20 feet in the air.

Both of the fire department's ladder trucks were used to attack the fire from either side of the building. Volunteer firefighters and off-duty personnel from the city and surrounding areas were called in to help. Firefighters battled the blaze for more than two hours before getting it under control about 8:30 p.m.

The American Red Cross of Western Connecticut was also quick to act after being contacted by local emergency services to help with the victims of the blaze.

In partnership with Danbury City Hall, they converted the War Memorial into a warming shelter, after which 38 Red Cross volunteers spent two days assessing the damages and needs of the victims, providing food, shelter, clothing, and trying to give people a general sense of normalcy.

Sandi Cole, the manager of emergency services for the American Red described the chaos.

"I literally ran over from our office [at 2 Terrace Place] and immediately got on the scene. All the firefighters could tell me was that the situation was bad, and all I told them was, 'Where do we start? How many victims do you have?'

"It was bitter cold; all I could see was sheer panic and total distress in the victims' faces. They had no idea where to go or what to do, after losing all they had," Cole said, adding, "I kept telling them they could trust that the Red Cross was going to be with them until they were able to get on their feet."

As a result of the fire, the Red Cross has partnered with members of the Danbury community and Jack Farley, owner of the building, to help in whatever ways they can.

Maxine Nery, a local business owner, converted her house into a temporary donation drop-off site that already has received hundreds of items. Mark Nolan and Denise Valeri, from the Danbury Housing Partnership, are working with local property owners to find permanent housing for victims. Wayne Shepperd, the mayor's chief of staff, and Dr.Marita Repole, a psychologist for the Danbury Public Schools, are also working to assist the families and their children.

According to officials involved in the aid process, there is no need for clothing or blankets. However, there is a need for furniture -- most importantly, mattress sets -- as victims of the fire are placed in permanent housing.

Tribuna Newspaper has also joined the efforts, creating a "Safe Asleep" New Mattress Sponsorship Drive, calling upon all members of the community and business owners to sign up and sponsor a new mattress for a victim, since refurbished mattresses represent a potential health hazard.

For more information and to be matched up with a family in the "Safe Asleep" New Mattress Sponsorship Drive, please call 203-730-0457. A total of 20 twin mattresses and six full or queen mattresses will be needed to accommodate all of the families affected by the fire.

You can also make a financial contribution to the American Red Cross Local Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disasters. You can mail donations to the American Red Cross, 2 Terrace Place, Danbury, CT 06810, log onto their website to make a secure contribution at http://WesternCT.RedCross.org.