Thursday, June 15, 2000

Blaze at shelter displaces homeless


Fire causes estimated $50K in damages

By Travis Mayo
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Jacob's Well, a homeless shelter on Pike Street, sustained about $50,000 worth of damage from a fire that temporarily displaced 28 people, shelter officials said Wednesday.

        No one was hurt, and investigators have not determined a cause for the blaze late Monday, which began in the kitchen on the first floor of the three-story building.

        Jacob's Well is a nine-month rehabilitation program for men run by Storehouse Ministries.

        The home had just been inspected and passed fire and safety codes. The 70-year-old building, once a bar and hotel, had only a few minor violations, such as burned-out exit lights, when it was inspected last month, said Covington Assistant Fire Chief Mike Swain. He added that those violations are common in commercial buildings.

        Building director Andrew Olds saw smoke coming from the kitchen at about 10:30 p.m. Monday, and residents were evacuated. Firefighters reached the building in about two minutes and had the blaze under control in 10 minutes. Assistant Chief Swain said investigators are leaning toward concluding that the fire was an accident.

        Men who check into the facility have problems ranging from alcoholism to depression. They are allowed to bring only clothes and are searched upon arrival to make sure nothing else comes inside. Smoking is prohibited.

        “There's always the possibility of a fire at shelters, because you have people trying to sneak around and smoke,” said Rev. Mason Barker, Storehouse's director. “That's a good reason to keep everything up-to-date.”

        Jacob's Well has a complete fire alarm system, which did sound Monday night, Mr. Barker said. It also has two exits and 12 fire doors that can hold back fire for more than an hour. Those doors are on the bedrooms on the third floor, where two people sleep in each room on bunk beds.

        Offices and classrooms are on the second floor. There are also several evacuation maps posted throughout the building.

        The building does not have a sprinkler system; sprinklers are required by Covington fire and building laws for buildings four stories or higher.

        Andy Hutzel, 28, an administrator at Cincinnati's Drop-Inn Center, said walking the straight line of fire and building codes ensures the highest safety. The Drop-Inn Center, which can house about 250 people, has sprinklers and designated smoking areas outside. The city inspects the center every six months, and the shelter has fire drills throughout the year.

        Neither Kentucky nor Ohio has fire codes specifically for shelters. The homes must follow standards for similar dwellings. Cincinnati Fire Capt. Robert Becker said shelters have not had major violations in past inspections.

        Storehouse Ministries operates eight shelters in Covington.

        At Jacob's Well, the priority now is getting people back inside.

        The kitchen sustained the most fire damage; about $6,000 in food was lost. The building could reopen in a few weeks, Mr. Barker said.

        Until then, the residents have found temporary housing at other shelters and a church.

       



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