COHOES – The emotions of frustrated tenants left homeless by last week’s devastating fire boiled over Monday morning when Mayor John McDonald made a personal visit to their burned-out apartment building
McDonald headed over to 1 and 3 North Mohawk St. after a 10 a.m. hearing at City Hall in which a joint determination was made that the south end of the old building, decimated by fire last Thursday evening, was not safe for entry.
Fire officials determined that the blaze was accidentally caused by a 5-year-old boy playing with a lighter in Apartment 2 of 1 North Mohawk St.
Some of the more than 40 people affected, who showed up at their former home under the impression that they would be allowed to retrieve their possessions, became irate when McDonald informed them otherwise.
The mayor was literally chased back into his vehicle as the emotionally-charged crowd yelled and screamed in his direction.
“We’re getting jerked around,” a furious Herbie Lewis said afterward. “They said after the fire that I could get in there the next day at noon. Then they told us we had to wait until Monday and I spent all weekend dealing with this craziness.
“Now I have to wait until at least Wednesday … by that time there will be mold growing all over everything.”
Tenants were allowed to enter the north end of the building, along with police officers and code enforcement representatives, to salvage what they could of their apartments, but McDonald said that the south end just wasn’t safe enough to enter.
“They’re not happy and that’s understandable,” McDonald said later in the afternoon. “I lost my residence due to fire back in 1988, so I know what they’re going through.
“We’re getting back a report from an engineering firm by Wednesday and we’ll know then if we can go in.
“Right now it’s just too high of a risk. Valuables can be replaced but lives can’t.”
McDonald said that a portion of North Mohawk Street will again be closed today, so that those granted permission to enter their former residences can remove their belongings.
Unfortunately for Steven Glastetter, who resided on the third floor of the heavily damaged north building with his fiance and four children, that point is moot.
The tow truck driver and his family, who were able to pick up the pieces when they were burned out of a Selkirk trailer park two years ago, have lost everything this time around.
“Yeah ,that pile of rubble up there is it,” an extremely shaken Glastetter said. “We were just about back on our feet from the last time … but now what do we do?
“Emotionally it just kills you. I don’t even know if I could go back to work after this.”
In the meantime, Glastetter, as well as many other of the 11 families stricken by the fire, is staying in a motel paid for by the American Red Cross.
However, a representative from the organization said that they usually only pay for hotel stays for 2 or 3 days at a time.
“After that we recommend that they move ahead and look for a permanent residence,” said Red Cross of Northeastern New York Communications Coordinator Kathleen Fingar. “That’s hard to understand for them because they’re in shock right now, but it’s important that they do that. Then we can assist them with getting situated as far as furniture and rent.”
Neighbors are also lending a helping hand to the fire victims.
According to collectors who have camped out on North Mohawk asking those driving by for donations, $500 was collected over the weekend.
“Our goal is to collect $10,000 for them,” said volunteer Kristina Kalish. “If I have to stand out here all day with my daughter on my shoulders to help these people out, I will.”
McDonald said the Cohoes Redevelopment Association, which owns the building, will present a plan to the city concerning the structure next week.
In the meantime, McDonald said he will do all he can for those left homeless.
“We will go to any effort to make sure that, if it is safe, they can get in and get their valuables,” the mayor vowed. “Maybe a month from now they will understand what I was trying to do this morning.
“My intention was to calm them down, and if they needed an opportunity to vent, they could take it out on me.
“I have awfully thick skin. It doesn’t bother me. I’m only concerned about them.”