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A Franklin County fire policeman stands in the middle of Church Street after the fatal fire. Photo: Chis Knightm courtesy <em>Adirondack Daily Enterprise</em>
A Franklin County fire policeman stands in the middle of Church Street after the fatal fire. Photo: Chis Knightm courtesy Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Follow-up to a fatal fire in Saranac Lake

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More than a week after an elderly woman died in a fire at a high-rise apartment building in Saranac Lake, investigators are still working to determine what caused the blaze.

Meanwhile, the death of Rose Schoonmaker, who was 91, has prompted managers of the DeChantal Apartments to take a closer look at their fire safety protocols and evacuation procedures.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent


An eyewitness account

Jean McDonough was watching TV in her fifth-floor apartment in the DeChantal high-rise a week ago Sunday when she heard the fire alarm go off. She rushed out of her apartment and saw the red emergency light on outside Rose Schoonmaker’s apartment at the opposite end of the hallway.

“I ran down the hall, opened up the door and saw the place was on fire,” McDonough said. “It was fully ablaze and way up to the ceiling. I went in to see if I could find her, and then I noticed she was in the bathroom.”

Schoonmaker's motorized scooter was on fire and blocking the bathroom door, McDonough said.

"I kept yelling at (Schoonmaker) and asking her if she could slide across the floor to the bathtub, but she couldn't move. When I would talk to her and I tell her, 'The fire trucks are coming, the fire trucks are coming,’ she was saying stuff, but I couldn't understand her."

At some point, another DeChantal resident  showed up with a fire extinguisher and put out most of the blaze. Firefighters rescued  Schoonmaker from the apartment.  She was taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake where she died later that day. An autopsy determined Schoonmaker died of smoke inhalation.

More than 100 residents from the 11-story high-rise were evacuated. A half dozen, including Jean McDonough, were taken to the hospital but later released.  Brendan Keough is Saranac Lake’s fire chief.

“When it was all said and done, we searched the building three times,” he said. “This is a big building with lots of occupants and it’s not something you go to every day. It’s not your typical house fire.”


The investigation so far

The cause of the blaze is still being probed. Keough said last week that it could be three to four weeks before the investigation is completed.

Meanwhile, the apartment building’s fire safety precautions are being reviewed in coordination with the fire department, according to Wayne Feinberg, who manages the DeChantal.  He said he's talked with Keough about how firefighters can get better access to all the building's apartments in the event of another emergency and how to better account for residents as they’re evacuated.

The DeChantal has a sprinkler system, but it's limited to the boiler room and common areas on the first floor. Each floor has fire extinguishers and standpipes with hoses at either end of the hallway, which were used during last week’s fire.

The fire doors on the fifth-floor didn’t close during that blaze, but Feinberg said that’s because heat sensors trigger the doors to close, and the heat from Sunday's fire apparently didn't spread beyond Schoonmaker's apartment. His crews were working last week to replace the sensors on the fire doors so they’re tied to the building’s alarm system.

That was a suggestion that came out of an inspection of the high-rise conducted in the wake of last week’s fire. Jeremy Evans, the village’s code enforcement officer, said it’s “by and large a very safe building.

“We looked at other things and everything’s in good shape,” Evans said.

 

A memorial service for Rose Schoonmaker was held Sunday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

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