Seniors eager to return to apartments in Lansdowne after fire

Residents of the Coursey Station Apartments on First Avenue in Lansdowne are gradually adjusting to life after a two-alarm fire on May 3 displaced 47 seniors.

Rosemary Horstman, the director of property management for Catholic Charities' senior housing — the not-for-profit group that owns the Coursey Station apartments — said 40 of the 47 residents were able to stay with family members after the fire.

She said the remaining seven were set up in a hotel nearby, thanks to help of the American Red Cross.

The fire began shortly before 10 p.m. in the building's electrical panel.

No residents were injured.

Only three of the 49 apartments were damaged when firefighters had to cut multiple holes into the roof on the building's third floor.

Horstman said Catholic Charities is doing everything possible to ensure the building will be fully restored as soon as possible.

"Immediately, we had a company come in to remediate any water," Horstman said. "That's always a concern.

"Ever since Saturday (May 4) it was daybreak, there were contractors there," she said.

Residents of the complex are eager to get back into their homes.

"I really could understand how a homeless person felt, because we left with the clothes on our back," said Cathy Benesch, a seven-year resident at Coursey Station.

She said the experience was a traumatic one.

"They've had minor things where the fire alarm went off but it was due to the heat on the third floor and everything was OK and we all went back in," the 69-year-old said.

She knew this time was different when the lights went out while she was in a common room outside her apartment with her friend and fellow resident, Mary Dryden.

"The lights flicked, you could hear a funny noise, almost like a humming," Benesch said.

After going into the hallway and out onto the building's front porch, she realized the power was out in the entire building. Fearing a possible break-in, she quickly went inside her apartment for safety.

"All of a sudden, you heard this sound — Boom! — and the fire doors closed and the alarm went off," Benesch said.

From then on, the night was a blur. After knocking on the doors to the apartments of friends and neighbors to make sure they were awake and evacuated safely, the residents watched fire department personnel arrive, all the time hoping and praying that the fire remained contained, she said.

"I tell you, it was a disturbing thing," Benesch said. "Sitting there (outside the building), I prayed to God that I didn't hear an explosion or maybe see flames go up that our home went out.

"You become friends with people and they become your family and you really don't want to start over someplace else," she said.

She praised the Red Cross workers, police from the Wilkens Station and firefighters from the English Consul Volunteer Department for their efforts in keeping the residents safe and making sure they had a place to stay.

"The fire department were very good with us, the county police when they were there and the management when they came," Benesch said.

"We got our with our life, that was the most important thing," she said. "Nobody got hurt. Material things you can replace but you can't replace your life."

"The Halethorpe Station 5 were amazing," Horstman said about the Baltimore County department on Washington Boulevard. "They treated our residents like they were the only people in the world."

After spending that first night at her friend's daughter's house, Benesch is staying with her cousins in Pasadena.

Dryden remains at her daughter's house near the apartment complex.

Residents will not be moving back in until late next week, according to the Coursey Station website.

The Arbutus Senior Center on Sulphur Spring Road is collecting donations for the displaced residents from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. They are requesting gift cards to both Giant and Walmart as well as nonperishable food items.

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