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Larson Commons still recovering after fire

Joseph Wrona pauses for a moment next to a pile of bins and boxes piled high in his dining area from his storage closet at Larson Commons. No one showed up to clear the contents of his closet and dry his carpet, so he did it himself. He is waiting for trim ruined by the water from the July 6 fire to be replaced in the closet before the contents can be put back. Jamie Lund / Pine Journal1 / 2
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A fire July 6 at the Larson Commons senior living apartments in Cloquet has left residual issues in its wake.

The elevator malfunctioned two weeks after it had been repaired due to water damage from the fire. A tenant who lives on the seventh floor was trapped in the elevator for 30 minutes July 28.

According to tenant Carolyn Watson, several tenants there noticed the elevator door was only partially opening July 27. The next morning, a tenant entered the elevator, but the door would not open so she could leave.

The Cloquet Area Fire District received a call at 10:37 a.m. of a woman stuck in the elevator at the apartment complex.

"Upon arrival, CAFD crews found the elevator operating, but the door would not open," District Fire Chief Kevin Schroeder said. "One person was in the elevator. The elevator was brought to the lobby level, where CAFD staff opened the door and assisted the occupant out. No injuries were noted, and the elevator was posted out of service and reported to building maintenance."

The elevator was out of service for five days.

According to Larson Commons spokesperson Owen Truesdell, the elevator was replaced in 2005-06.

"Besides minor repairs that happen with an elevator like bulbs that need to be replaced or a door sticking, we have not had any major issues until the fire occurred," he said. "Since then, repairs have been completed and the elevator has passed state inspection."

The elevator, which was damaged by water used to extinguish the fire, has some tenants concerned.

The elevator was out of service for a week because repairs couldn't be completed until parts arrived. According to Truesdell, the repairs were finished a week after the fire. The elevator passed state inspection and the inspector alerted building staff other work should be done.

Watson noted there are seven floors in the building and many of the tenants have mobility issues. When the elevator is out of service, some tenants can't leave their units without help from apartment staff or the CAFD.

Truesdell explained that staff were available to help bring packages and meals to tenants when the elevators were out of service.

Watson estimated that roughly 25 percent of the tenants own a pet. When the elevator wasn't working, dog owners needed to take the stairs to bring their dogs outside. She said many tenants need walkers or other types of assistance to move about.

The CAFD responded to several calls to help tenants up the stairs when the elevator was out of service.

A tenant who had both hips operated on in recent years reportedly fell down the stairs the second time the elevator was closed. A family member, Roberta Osborne, emailed the property management company, Plymouth, Minn.-based Dominium, her concerns when the elevator was out of commission.

The tenant lives on the seventh floor. When the elevator wasn't working the second time, he took the stairs to get his meal. He fell going back up to his apartment.

When the ambulance arrived, he declined to go to the hospital to be examined. The EMTs helped him up the stairs and to his unit.

Watson and her friend, Susan Bonneville, talked to tenants about damage to their units and other concerns and questions after the elevator was out of order the second time.

They wrote a letter to Dominium and the majority of tenants signed it. It was emailed to Dominium on Aug. 8.

An ongoing issue listed in the letter is the boiler going out. When that happens, there is not hot water or heat in the units.

"Larson Commons is currently soliciting bids to return the boiler to working order," Truesdell said.

Watson has lived at Larson Commons for 12 years. Watson and Bonneville live on the sixth floor and do not have damage from the recent fire, but felt obligated to speak up. Watson has issues with walking stairs.

"When crews arrived within two minutes of the alarm, water was already flowing out of the front door," Jason Maki, a firefighter with the CAFD, said.

He explained that firefighters put out the fire first, then stop the sprinkler system. He estimated it was about 15 minutes from extinguishing the fire to installing a sprinkler stop to the sprinkler head to stem the flow of water. After the sprinkler is stopped, the water is shut off.

Maki said the CAFD had Larson Commons on its list of commercial buildings where it needed to review the shutoffs, which they did later in July.

Dryco Restoration Services of Duluth was at Larson Commons by the time the fire was out and began vacuuming and setting up fans and dehumidifiers to dry carpets and floors to prevent mold from growing.

Watson said she was impressed with how quickly they responded. They also cut out the bottom 3 feet of drywall in the hallways where water had been absorbed.

Dryco employees removed boxes and bins from tenants' water-damaged storage closets and stacked them in the apartments. Once the closet was emptied, the baseboards were removed and the carpet dried to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Tenants are waiting for the baseboards to be replaced and stacks of boxes and bins to be removed from living and dining rooms.

Other tenants, like Joseph Wrona, moved their own possessions out of the storage closet and dried the carpet themselves.

"I wish Dryco would have come over," Wrona said.

He suffered a damaged disc in his back from moving the boxes and bins. He has had cortisone injections in his back and will have several more doctor appointments in the future to deal with the disc.

Boxes and bins are still neatly stacked on and around his dining room table, where they have been since the first week of July.

Wicklund stated in her letter to tenants that Larson Commons has insurance to cover the damages. She said this week that work will begin as soon as they received approval from the insurance company.

Kaski Inc., a construction company from Duluth, began replacing sheetrock in the hallways Aug. 20.