Jan. 10--SCHENECTADY -- Nearly 30 homeless people living temporarily in a $95-a-week boarding house are homeless again after repairs were required following a minor fire Wednesday blamed on faulty wiring that burned one apartment and caused smoke and water damage.
Nobody was injured.
"I lost everything. I'm not going back to that place," said Benjamin Moses, 54, a former construction worker who was placed in the Tompkins Motel on Central Avenue in Colonie. "I just want my rent back."
Red Cross and social services officials scrambled to find emergency housing for other residents, including some couples, in the three-story building at 1302 Lower Broadway. Some stayed with friends, and others were placed at local motels, the City Mission and the YMCA on State Street, according to Alan Surnear, building supervisor.
Surnear tired to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher but could not fully extinguish the blaze and called 911.
"Luckily, it did not spread throughout the building," said Fire Chief Michael Dellarocco. He said it was unclear if Surnear's actions and delay in calling 911 had hindered or helped firefighters, who quickly put out what was left of the fire.
Dellarocco said the resident of the room that burned was taken to the police station and questioned, but he did not know the outcome of the investigation. A police spokesman did not return calls.
Eric Shilling, city building inspector, who inspected the fire scene Wednesday, said the cause appeared to be with the wiring. "It has been corrected," he said. "The owner has been very cooperative. We made suggestions to enhance safety and they've been more than willing to correct it."
Shilling said he did not find any code violations in his inspection and as soon as repairs are completed, residents will be allowed to return. He could not provide a timetable. "As fast as they can get the work done, we can get clearances and reinspect it," he said.
Shilling said there were no outstanding code complaints for 1302 Lower Broaday, although there was a small fire at the building in November 2012 and in 2011 the owners were cited for chipping and peeling paint, missing ceiling panels, not having a fire extinguisher mounted to a wall and missing railing spindles.
One major recommendation Shilling made to the owner was to construct a common kitchen area. Currently, residents cook in their rooms with hot plates.
Samuel "Poppy" Baez, 63, who has chronic medical problems and mobility issues that require him to use a walker, was home when the fire broke out around 9:30 a.m. Two residents helped him down the exterior stairway by hauling him out while seated in a chair.
He was treated at Ellis Hospital, where several ounces of fluid were drained from his distended stomach. Severe edema is one of his symptoms. He was left with a pair of slippers, work pants and a flannel shirt. His other clothes and possessions were in the apartment, which was closed to residents as work continued.
Surnear gave Baez a ride from the hospital to the Days Inn on Nott Terrace, where the two shared a room.
"The landlord asked me to help him out and keep an eye on him," Surnear said.
Baez said he has no issue with the landlord. "He's a decent guy. He watches out for us," Baez said.
"We're trying to get people back in," said the building's owner, Mike Marino, a city firefighter. He and workers had gutted the apartment where the fire started and were rebuilding walls with sheets of plywood on Thursday.
"Fortunately, no one was hurt. That's what's important," Marino said. He declined to answer other questions, including how long he owned the property.
Dellarocco said he only learned after the fire that Marino owned the building. He said Marino was not working Wednesday and did not respond to the fire.
The property was owned since 2002 by John Digesualdo, a retired city police officer. The bar on the ground floor, Old Christy's Inn, had been run by his mother, Donna Walsh, who was charged in 2012 with stealing $100,000 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets she was licensed to sell. She was believed to have won only about $2,000, authorities said.