By Bonnie Caprara
Review Special Writer
While Detroit firefighters have to struggle with ongoing fires breaking out in vacant commercial buildings, Hamtramck has been spared – so far.
Just recently Detroit firefighters were called once again to put out fires at the defunct Packard plant near Mt. Eliott and I-94 the night of Sunday, June 28, and into the following morning.
While 71, or 12 percent, of Hamtramck’s commercial and industrial buildings stand vacant, Fire Chief Steve Paruk said they pose little risk as fire hazards.
“As long as commercial buildings are secure, we really don’t have problems,” Paruk said.
The last commercial building fire occurred on Dec. 2, 2008, at the block-long A & R Packing plant in the 2200 block of Andrus. The building was operational at the time and has since been boarded up. The owner is in talks with the city about tearing down the remains of the structure.
However, Code Enforcement Manager Tom Lieckfeld said the greatest risk of fire hazards stem from the city’s 109 vacant homes.
“Winter is when we see most of the problems with people trying to stay warm in those buildings,” Lieckfeld said.
Of the 19 fire investigations conducted since the beginning of 2009, five have involved vacant structures, according to Paruk.
Lieckfeld and Paruk said the city routinely secures abandoned buildings. If owners of abandoned buildings cannot be found, the Department of Public Works will board open doors and windows at the city’s expense. In the case of abandoned burned buildings, Paruk said a number of fire restoration contractors will promptly secure them at no cost with the hope that the owners can be located and later billed.
“An unsecured building is an unsafe building,” Paruk said. “It also keeps out scavengers. If you secure an abandoned or foreclosed home, then it’s worth more at resale.”
It’s not just abandoned buildings that pose threats to fire.
“A lot of our homes are old, built in the 1920s,” Lieckfeld said. “They’re brittle and built close together, which poses a hazard to nearby homes.”
“A lot of our commercial buildings are older and aren’t equipped to handle the electrical needs of today,” Paruk said. “Our fire inspector makes routine, unannounced inspections to see how they’re doing business. If he sees extension cords running underneath a rug across the floor, circuits that are overloaded, or things that are improperly stored near a furnace, he’ll have the business owner make the corrections. He’ll even visit homes upon request.”
Paruk also urged residents to call police if they see suspicious people hanging around or entering abandoned homes and buildings.
“It may be a contractor, but it’s better to play it safe,” Paruk said.