Woman Dies In Fire At Thompson Public Housing Complex
THOMPSON, Feb 21, 2013 (The Hartford Courant - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
When Anita Jarvais' family got an alert that the 92-year-old woman had fallen Wednesday in the apartment where she lived alone, they weren't surprised. It had happened before, they said.
But when Kirk Deslongchamps and his wife arrived about five minutes later at his grandmother's home, Apt. B-5 of the Gladys Green & Pineview Court Apartments, it was on fire. Deslongchamps tried to get in to save her, but a firefighter prevented him from going inside, said his daughter, Sarah Deslongchamps.
Others had tried to rescue Jarvais, too, and ambulance workers and firefighters -- who, thinking it was a medical call, had arrived without firetrucks -- tried using fire extinguishers.
But they were no match for the flames, which one neighbor described as "horrid." Jarvais died in the public housing complex where she lived for more than 23 years.
Her family is trying to figure out how the fire started. Jarvais didn't smoke or use candles, they said, and she rarely cooked without her home health aide present.
"That's why we're waiting around," Sarah Deslongchamps said Wednesday afternoon. "We want answers."
The state fire marshal's office and Eastern District Major Crime Squad are investigating, along with Thompson Deputy Fire Marshal James Seney. The 70-unit complex at 500 Riverside Drive is managed by the Thompson Housing Authority.
Jarvais was a tidy woman who "liked things in their place," Sarah Deslongchamps said. It probably would have bothered her to know that firefighters were dragging their "dirty feet" through the apartment, she said.
She loved cookies so much, her family nicknamed her "the Cookie Monster." She also was feisty and "stubborn in a good way," said one neighbor who asked not to have her name published.
Even though Jarvais had trouble walking, was legally blind and had hearing problems, "she wasn't going to a nursing home," the neighbor said.
Jarvais once fell and broke her kitchen table, said another neighbor, Joan Mayo. She also had broken her hip and pelvis in the past, said Nancy Deslongchamps, Sarah's mother and Kirk's wife.
According to Nancy Deslongchamps, Jarvais pressed the emergency alert button she wore around her neck like a necklace about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. When the service's dispatcher received the alert, she asked on a speaker attached to Jarvais' phone if Jarvais had an emergency. From what Deslongchamps learned, Jarvais responded that she had fallen, that she was OK but needed someone to help her up.
The service's dispatcher called the local emergency communications center, and an ambulance crew and firefighters were dispatched for what they thought was a medical call, she said.
Dale Fifield, fire chief of the West Thompson Fire Department, and Keith Mathon, a firefighter and emergency medical technician, said the only thing they knew for sure is that someone had fallen. Fifield said he called for help when he realized there was a structure fire. He also called a second alarm to get another crew of firefighters to the scene, he said. Five fire departments from Thompson responded and a contingent from Woodstock reported to the fire stations to respond to other calls, he said.
Mathon said firefighters might have gotten equipment to the scene five to seven minutes earlier if they had known there was a fire at the time of the initial call. He doesn't know if that could have saved Jarvais, though.
The units have smoke detectors, and firefighters check them once a year to make sure they are working, residents said.
Thompson First Selectman Lawrence K. Groh Jr., who called Jarvais' death "heart-breaking," said everything was in working order in the complex. By coincidence, the town was scheduled to open bids Wednesday afternoon to upgrade the fire alarm system there.
Meanwhile, Nancy Deslongchamps and the rest of her family are reeling over the way Jarvais died.
"We got here to pick her up off the floor, not to find this," she said.
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